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US to Coordinate with French on Response to Nice Attacks

An improvised memorial for the victims of the July 14, 2016 terror attack in Nice, France. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP)
An improvised memorial for the victims of the July 14, 2016 terror attack in Nice, France. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP)

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will meet with his French counterpart at the Pentagon next week to coordinate a military response to the Nice truck attack that killed at least 84, including 10 children, and injured another 202.

A Pentagon statement Friday said that Carter phoned French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian to offer condolences for the rampage for more than a mile along the Promenade des Anglais (English way) in Nice on Thursday and to pledge U.S. support for joint efforts against terrorism.

The statement and a later briefing by a spokesman for U.S. Central Command did not indicate what the response might be but, after the terror attacks that killed 130 in Paris last November, France sent warplanes to bomb the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria and dispatched the aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle to the Gulf.

France began bombing the ISIS in Iraq in September 2014 and expanded the strikes into Syria a year later. France reportedly has 21 Rafale jet fighters, nine Super Etendards and several Mirage warplanes in the region.

The U.S. was planning to step up the campaign against ISIS with more troops and assets before the attack in Nice. Last week, Carter said that the U.S. would be sending an additional 560 troops to Iraq to bring the authorized "Force Management Level" to 4,647, but Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, said Thursday that the U.S. was prepared to commit more troops beyond the 560.

"As we continue on the mission, I think there will be some additional troops that we will ask to bring in," Votel told Reuters' Phil Stewart in Baghdad.

In a briefing Friday to the Pentagon from CentCom headquarters in Tampa, Air Force Col. Pat Ryder, a CentCom spokesman, said "There is a possibility we will need more forces" as Iraqi and Kurdish forces move closer to Mosul. "We are open to that idea."

As for changes in the makeup or mission of coalition forces in the aftermath of the Nice attack, Ryder said, "I don't see any changes on the ground or in the air" in the immediate future, but "when we need additional capabilities, we will ask for them."

Ryder repeated warnings that the military has circulated for months, and have been echoed recently by CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey -- that as ISIS loses territory in Iraq and Syria, it will increasingly lash out by directing or inspiring terror attacks worldwide.

In testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday, Comey said, "We all know there will be a terrorist diaspora out of the caliphate as military force crushes the caliphate. Those thousands of fighters are going to go someplace. Our job is to spot them and stop them before they come to the United States to harm innocent people."

Comey and Brennan have warned that the terror threat from ISIS will last long after its forces are defeated in Iraq and Syria. French authorities made similar remarks after the Nice attack.

"We will not give in to the terrorist threat," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Friday, but "The times have changed. France is going to have to live with terrorism."

At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama had called French President Francois Hollande to offer security cooperation and any assistance that was needed in the investigation. Earnest said Obama agreed with Hollande's "working theory" that the Nice attack was a terrorist act.

However, Earnest said that "more needs to be learned about [the suspect's] background and other people he may have associated with -- whether or not he received any instruction or direction."

Hollande later went to a Nice hospital to console victims of the attack. "There are many children,he said. "Young children who had come to watch fireworks with their family, to have joy, to share happiness, delight, amazement, and who were struck, struck to death, merely to satisfy the cruelty of an individual -- and maybe of a group."

"Many told me that they had no recollection of what might have caused their wounds," he said. "However, they remember the bodies that were torn to shreds right in front of their eyes."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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