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France mounts Iraq strikes on IS

France has mounted its first air strike to beat back the Islamic State group in Iraq, even as jihadists across the border in Syria seized dozens of Kurdish villages in a lightning offensive.

More than a decade after Paris refused to back the US-led invasion of Iraq, France became the first nation to join America’s US campaign of air strikes targeting the Islamic State (IS) in the war-torn country.

“This morning at 9.40, our Rafale planes carried out a first strike against a logistics depot of the terrorist organisation (IS),” President Francois Hollande said.

French defence ministry sources said two jets dropped laser-guided GBU-12 bombs in the Mosul area. They said “a lot of ammunition”, vehicles and fuel reserves were destroyed.

Kurdish military spokesman Halgord Hekmat identified the location as Tal Mus, between the city of Mosul and Zumar.

US aircraft have carried out 178 strikes since August 8 but President Barack Obama has been keen to build a broad international coalition.

The bombing campaign was launched to protect Iraqi Kurdistan from advancing jihadists and attempt to help the autonomous region’s troops retake the ground they lost.

Obama has vowed not to send “boots on the ground” but has pledged to support Kurdish and Iraqi federal forces by offering air support and arms, as well as targeting intelligence and training.

On Thursday, Congress backed his plan to arm Syrian rebels to take on IS in conjunction with air strikes, which Obama has pledged to carry out inside Syria but not yet launched.

On Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said IS fighters had seized 60 Kurdish villages near the Turkish border in a two-day offensive using heavy weaponry.

“In the past 48 hours, they have taken 60 villages, 40 on Friday alone,” said the monitoring group’s director Rami Abdel Rahman, referring to the operation around the Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab.

“The Kurdish fighters are beating a retreat because they are outnumbered,” he said, as the IS closes in on Ain al-Arab, which the Kurds call Kobane, on the Turkish border.

The town is one of three Kurdish majority areas where nationalists have proclaimed self-rule and its capture would give the jihadists control of a long stretch of the Turkish border.

Ankara reopened the frontier Friday to fleeing Kurds, saying a worst-case scenario could drive as many as 100,000 more refugees into the country.

The UN Security Council on Friday vowed to back efforts to crush the jihadists in Iraq at a meeting chaired by US Secretary of State John Kerry and attended by 35 countries including Australia in a show of solidarity for the new government in Baghdad.

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