“France has taken the decision to repatriate until further notice its personnel deployed in operation Chammal in Iraq,” the Armed Forces Ministry said on Wednesday, adding that around 100 troops were in the country, and that air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as ISIL, ISIS or Daesh) terror group would continue, RT reported.
Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the spokesman for the caretaker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi told the newspaper Al-Sabah on Wednesday that the French troops have already left Iraq.
Starting in 2014, France’s Operation Chammal spanned both Iraq and Syria and allegedly aimed to stem the expansion of the self-styled terrorist 'caliphate', flying airstrikes over both countries and sending a limited number of ground troops to Iraq.
Last week, the United Kingdom also temporarily pulled troops from Iraq over the coronavirus outbreak, leaving only “key military personnel” in the country to support the Baghdad government and partners in the anti-ISIS coalition.
The Czech military announced a withdrawal earlier on Wednesday citing the same reason, bringing home around 30 soldiers who previously trained Iraqi troops.
While Iraq has confirmed some 346 cases of Covid-19, France has tallied over 25,000, with more than 1,300 deaths, making it one of Europe’s harder-hit nations.
The virus has infected in excess of 460,000 people worldwide since the outbreak began late last year, killing 20,857, according to the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 tracker.
The withdrawal comes as France deploys troops within its own borders to fight a war of a different kind – against the virus – with President Emmanuel Macron announcing the start of “Operation Resilience” on Wednesday.
The mission will see French soldiers assist with “health, logistics and protection” as part of a nationwide effort to halt the spread of the contagion, and will be “entirely devoted to helping and supporting the population,” Macron said.