PARIS—France will keep troops in northern Syria for now because Islamic State militants have not been wiped out, contrary to the US view, and has started talks with the United States on the conditions and calendar of its withdrawal, officials said.
France is a leading member of the US-led coalition fighting militants in Syria and Iraq and has around 1,000 troops including special forces based in the north of the country, deployed alongside local Kurdish and Arab forces.
French diplomats told Reuters on Wednesday President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw all 2,000 US troops from the region had taken Paris by surprise. US officials justified the decision by saying Islamic State had been defeated.
"It shows that we can have different priorities and that we must count on ourselves first," Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau told C-News television. "For now, of course we are staying in Syria because the fight against Islamic State is essential."
France is especially sensitive to the Islamic State threat after several major deadly attacks on its soil and officials believe the militant group continues to pose a threat. Hundreds of French nationals have joined the group in Syria.
In a statement, the foreign ministry said Paris and its coalition allies had started talks with Washington on the timeframe and conditions for the US withdrawal.
"The protection of the populations of northeastern Syria and the stability of this zone must be taken into account by the United States to avoid any new humanitarian drama and any return of the terrorists," it said.