TOULON, France -- France paid tribute Friday to Allied troops - including veterans from the United States and from French colonies in Africa - who landed 70 years ago on Mediterranean shores to liberate French land from Nazi occupation. The so-called southern landings, involving some 450,000 troops and 881 warships, were launched 10 weeks after the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The two operations squeezed the Nazi occupiers in a pincer, hastening the German defeat and the end of World War II. At a ceremony on an aircraft carrier off the Mediterranean port of Toulon, French President Francois Hollande vaunted France's military role around the world today, saying he is honoring "France's historic debt," after other countries came to its defense in the two world wars.
France this week led a European push to arm Kurdish authorities battling extremists in Iraq, and has troops in Mali and Central African Republic at the request of local authorities. "France ... is a nation that takes its responsibility to assure the security of Europe but also security in the world, and to act wherever we are asked to act for peace," Hollande said. Major celebrations were held June 6 to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day in the presence of world leaders including President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II. On Friday, French authorities paid special homage to the tens of thousands African troops recruited by colonizers to fight the Nazis. Fifteen African leaders, some of whom have strained relations with the former colonial power, were invited to Friday's events. Twenty warships, including the USS Mount Whitney, two British minesweepers, and ships from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, joined a naval parade off the beaches of Provence. "The second act of the liberation of France played out here, on these shores, in 44," Hollande said. On the evening of Aug. 15, 1944, some 100,000 men landed from air and sea on the beaches of southern France in an invasion codenamed Operation Dragoon. A total of 450,000 ultimately arrived to liberate Provence. The Germans retreated rapidly, and the Allies continued north to join up with comrades who had freed Paris and northern France.