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Toulouse (France) (AFP) - France will remain "militarily engaged" in the Middle East through 2019 despite the announced US withdrawal from the coalition fighting Islamic State jihadists in Syria, President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday.
"The retreat from Syria announced by our American friend cannot make us deviate from our strategic objective: eradicating Daesh," the president said in a speech at an army base near Toulouse, southern France, using the Arabic acronym for the IS group.
The French military has deployed 1,200 soldiers as part of the anti-IS efforts, via air operations, artillery, special forces in Syria and training for the Iraqi army.
"The fight is not over," Macron said, adding that in the coming months "we shall revise our global military deployment" but "we shall remain committed to participating in stabilisation" in the Middle East region.
"Any rush to withdraw would be a mistake," he added.
Macron also expressed his condolences for "our four American friends killed on Syrian soil" on Wednesday in a bombing claimed by the Islamic State group.
Trump claimed IS had been eliminated in Syria to justify the US troop pullout, but the jihadists still hold small pockets of land in the Euphrates River Valley, and thousands of fighters are thought to remain in Syria.
Analysts also say the US troop pullout will leave thousands of Kurdish fighters in northern Syria -- who the Pentagon spent years training and arming against IS -- vulnerable to attack by Turkey, which considers Kurdish groups a terrorist threat.
Macron had already criticised US President Donald Trump for saying in late December that he would soon start to withdraw the 2,000 US soldiers deployed in Syria.
A few days after Trump's announcement Macron said "I deeply regret the decision," saying that "an ally must be reliable."
Macron has persisted in trying to develop a "special relationship" with the billionaire tycoon despite widely differing political beliefs and styles, and the two had seemed to share a camaraderie in the early days of their respective presidencies.
But differences over policy -- in particular the Paris climate accords which Trump opposed -- have become increasingly hard to paper over and tensions in their relationship have become more apparent.