Pentagon chief visits French carrier to show joint resolve against Islamic State

By Yeganeh Torbati

ABOARD THE CHARLES DE GAULLE, (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited the French aircraft carrier the Charles de Gaulle in the Gulf on Saturday to highlight both countries' determination to defeat Islamic State militants.

He also met with U.S. troops on the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship currently deployed to the Gulf in support of U.S. efforts against Islamic State.

France has intensified air strikes against the group since it claimed responsibility for attacks on bars, restaurants, a stadium and a concert hall that killed 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13.

Carter praised "France's willingness to do more as we do more."

"Both militarily and politically, we and France are completely aligned, and that's the way it should be," he said.

While on the French ship, Carter spoke by phone with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. A senior U.S. defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two see "very eye to eye" on the need to expand air strikes and targeting against Islamic State, for instance against oil and gas infrastructure under the group's control.

Carter's visits to the French and American ships came after trips this week to Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan, during which he focussed on the threat posed by Islamic State and assessing the U.S. military strategy for defeating it.

The Charles de Gaulle is on a long-planned deployment that began on Nov. 18. For 10 days the carrier was stationed in the eastern Mediterranean, where it launched 10 to 15 flight missions per day targeting Islamic State, a hardline Sunni group that has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.

It arrived in the Gulf on Friday, and Commander Lionel Delort, a French Navy spokesman, said flight missions against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq were expected to resume "in the coming days."

(; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)