PARIS – Calling the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan "catastrophic," France said Wednesday it would start supplying arms to the Kurdish forces fighting Sunni extremists from the Islamic State group.
The sudden announcement that arms would begin to flow within hours underlined France's alarm at the urgency of the situation in Iraq, where the Islamic State fighters are threatening the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
The shipment of French arms, which the government refused to describe, follows the United States' increased role in fighting back the Islamic State extremists.
Senior American officials say U.S. intelligence agencies are directly arming the Kurds. On Tuesday, 130 U.S. troops arrived in the Kurdish capital of Irbil on what the Pentagon described as a temporary mission to coordinate plans to help trapped Yazidi civilians on Mount Sinjar.
France says its arms shipment was coordinated with the Iraqi government.
French authorities have pushed other European Union members to do more to aid Christians and other minorities being targeted by the Islamic State group extremists.
E.U. foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting Friday to coordinate their approach to the crisis and to endorse the European arms shipments already announced, according to an E.U. diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity pending the official announcement later Wednesday.
British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his vacation to chair a session of the U.K. emergency security committee, but stopped short of promising to arm Kurdish fighters.
He declined to say whether the Chinook helicopters being deployed to the region would be used to evacuate displaced people but said detailed plans were being put together to get the besieged minorities off of Mount Sinjar.
The turmoil stems from the rapid advance of the Islamic State group and allied Sunni militants across northern and western Iraq in June. The insurgency seized Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, and routed Iraq's beleaguered armed forces. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.5 million have been displaced by the violence.