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From Paul Ames, Global Post: [T]here are few troops anywhere in the world better prepared for their task than the marines, foreign legionaries, and other elite French units rolling north to confront the Jihadist militants controlling much of Mali. . . .
Among America's European allies, only the British can match France's ability to project significant military force overseas. However, not even they have much experience operating in the string of former French colonies across North and West Africa — where the recent rise of Islamist groups is posing the international community’s latest security threat.
French troops have deployed in more than a dozen African missions during the past two decades. French and British planes took the lead in NATO's air campaign over Libya in 2011, when French forces also successfully intervened to halt a civil war in Ivory Coast. Three years earlier, they spearheaded a European operation to prevent Sudan's conflict from spilling over into Chad. . . .
Although French newspapers have raised concerns that the current operation to retake an area twice the size of France risks degenerating into an Afghan-style mess, French leaders are confident the 2,500 troops in Mali can get the job done, then hand over to a regional force of African troops.
"Our objective is the total reconquest of Mali,” Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a recent TV interview. “We are not going to leave any pockets of resistance. . . ."
The French armed forces have fallen in number to 227,000 from 548,000 since 1990. Military planners currently operate on the premise that France can sustain the deployment of 30,000 troops overseas, compared to up to 50,000 barely a decade ago. Some senior officers have cast doubt even on the 30,000 figure.
"We've got a pocket-sized army of great quality, but ultimately vulnerable," said a senate report published last year.
Before the Mali deployment, France already had 4,750 troops on operations around the world, including 1,650 in Afghanistan, 950 in Chad, 900 in Lebanon, and 460 in Ivory Coast. . . .
"Europe cannot always give responsibility to one member state," Arnaud Danjean, a French politician who chairs the European Parliament's subcommittee on security and defense, said Wednesday.
Even though European countries agree the threat from Islamists in Africa’s Sahal region concerns them all, he complained, none have offered combat troops, leaving France to singlehandedly serve as Europe's army. . . .
Even countries with large armies are unable or unwilling to deploy them. Although Germany maintains almost 200,000 troops, fewer than 9,000 are estimated to be available for overseas deployment — even in the unlikely event the government would be willing to send them.
"Many Europeans send soldiers on peacekeeping missions, but as we saw in Libya, as we see in Mali, not so many countries are willing to do real shooting, or fighting, or bombing," says Daniel Keohane, head of strategic affairs at the think tank FRIDE. "There’s clearly a deep division among European member states over how to use forces."
In 2007, European Union members signed up to a system that rotates responsibility for maintaining two highly mobile "battlegroups," 1,500-strong units on standby for emergency deployments. However, there’s never been agreement to use them. . . .
"France has intervened because the problem in the Sahel threatens to blow up into a serious threat to Europe. It has gone in alone because the other Europeans have shirked their responsibility," the Germany daily Suddeutsche Zeitung wrote last week. "That says a lot about the state of the common European security and defense policy. And none of it is good.” (photo: AFP) (via Real Clear World)
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