PARIS (Reuters) - France is sending its aircraft carrier to the Indian Ocean for naval exercises, a defense ministry source said on Tuesday, adding that the ship was ready for military operations if needed.
Specialized naval internet website "Mer et Marine" reported that the Charles de Gaulle carrier, the flagship of the French fleet, was heading to the Gulf, where it would join operations against Islamic State in Iraq.
The carrier is usually accompanied by an attack submarine, several frigates and a refueling ship. When asked if the aircraft carrier could be used to fight Islamic State, the defense ministry source said: "It's a military tool. It's purpose is to be used."
President Francois Hollande is due to officially announce the carrier's departure on Jan. 14 when he gives his annual New Year's address to the military from the ship in the southern port city of Toulon.
France was the first country to join the U.S.-led coalition in air strikes in Iraq against Islamic State insurgents, who have also taken control of large parts of neighboring Syria during the course of the three-year-old civil war there. However, it has ruled out striking the group in Syria.
It has about 800 military personnel, nine fighter jets, a maritime patrol aircraft and a refueling plane at its base in the United Arab Emirates as part of its "Chammal" Iraq mission, as well as an anti-aircraft warship in the Gulf. It also operates six Mirage fighter jets from Jordan.
Reporting by Marine Pennetier; writing by John Irish; Editing by Dominic Evans