As the French government launches a major retaliatory bombing campaign against the ISIS-held Syrian city of Raqqa, observers warn that President François Hollande is taking a page from the widely discredited playbook of former American President George W. Bush.
“France is at war,” Hollande declared Monday in an address to Parliament, in which he called for a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the series of attacks Friday in Paris that killed at least 129 people.
The statement came just hours after France—assisted by the United States—launched its largest-yet bombing campaign against Raqqa, which is home to an estimated 200,000 people. However, the Syrian organization Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, which documents the brutality of ISIS, reported that France has also bombed a soccer stadium, hospital, museum, and government building.
“The French air strikes are targeting a crowded, large city,” said Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, in an interview with Common Dreams. “The fact that ISIS has claimed it as its capital does not change the fact that this is a city of ordinary people. It is hard to imagine that there can be this kind of heavy duty bombing and not have significant casualties and destruction of the city.”
Raqqa residents have already endured bombings by the U.S., Russian, Syrian, and French air forces, as well as the brutality of the Islamic State. Khaled al-Homsi, a Palmyra-based activist and nephew of the Syrian archaeologist Khalid al-Asaad who was beheaded by ISIS in August, turned to social media to call for the protection of civilians.
Hollande’s government has been bombing territories in Iraq since September 2014, and over the past two months has launched a handful of airstrikes in Syria, including a smaller attack in Raqqa on October. But Sunday night’s bombing appears to be France’s most extensive yet since it joined the U.S.-led coalition.
Both U.S. and French officials said that American forces backed Sunday’s attack by helping them identify alleged targets, in what are euphemistically referred to as “strike packages.” Meanwhile, President Barack Obama appears to be encouraging France to take military action, vowing cooperation and calling the Paris massacre an “attack on the civilized world.”