America Praises the Work of the French Army


2013-02-23 America Praises the Work of the French Army

By Laure Mandeville, Le Figaro Washington Correspondent

Published in French in Le Figaro, February 23, 2013.

Translated by Second Line of Defense.

Admiration, anxiety and relief.  Those are the prevailing sentiments in Washington as Americans watch the French operation in Mali.  The headline of Newsweek was “France: Leader of the Free World.”  The article presents the French as a “virile superpower, which is decisive.”

The influential expert Bruce Riedel even asserts that the French capacities to project power are greater than the British.  Amazing!

French C-130 air drop in Mali. he rapidity of movement by the French forces has been designed to open space for inserting and supporting the coalition partners in the region. Credit Image: French Ministry of Defense

This enthusiasm, which contrasts decisively with the habitual French bashing, is “a revelation of Americans who discover the real capacity for action of the French army,” notes Murielle Delaporte, who is a consultant based in Washington and is the editor-in-chief of a specialized defense publication Soutien logistique et defense.

She argues that those over 40 in the United States still have a memory of French capabilities based on the memory of the French air force and the foreign legion in the past.  But for the young Americans this is something new.  “For this generation they have seen the Iraq episode which tarnished the reputation of France, and led to France being seen as a declining nation.  But the young generations are quite surprised by the French savoir-faire in Africa,” she adds.

Because of 10 years of wars and drastic budget constraints, Gregory Mann, a professor at Columbia University, argues “Washington is relieved to see the French take on this burden.”

And Colin Clark, a defense journalist for AOL Defense, adds that “we owe you a lot for your help post-September 2001, notably, for your help in Djibouti and in Afghanistan.  And now you are cleaning up the mess which we helped to contribute to in Mali, with our own mistakes!”

Another American expert, John Nagl, a counter-insurgency expert and on Iraq, who teaches at the Naval Academy in Annapolis adds: “Everyone is pleased that the French are doing this job.  For the three phases of counter-insurgency which are clear, hold and build, the French have been remarkably successful in the first phase.” This expert does not foresee direct American intervention in Mali.

Murielle Delaporte adds: “The Pentagon is following closely the joint approach being followed by the French in Mali.  Our mix of joint air strikes, paratroopers and Special Forces is an option between that of the American drone strikes being carried out in Somalia and Yemen under Obama and the much larger ground operation in Iraq under Bush. Some US officers are speaking of a potential third way or new combat approach being followed by the French in Mali.”

“Investing in Sustainability”

But caution must be followed warns John Nagl. “The French are in the position when Bush declared mission accomplished in Irak.  You have done the first phase well, but I do not have confidence in your ability to do the next two.  Neither France nor America has the appetite for the long term. We are all exhausted and I doubt the troops of the African Union can take over.”

An airdrop to support rapid insertion. Credit: French Ministry of Defense. 

Nagl argues for including experienced outside advisors with the African Union troops to aide in the transition and expects the “French will play a role for a long time.”

Gregory Mann also expressed his concern about a possible stalemate“Look at the streets of Gao when fighting resumed and don’t forget the AQIM vision demonstrated in the years of fighting the French in the Sahel region.”

The consultant Murielle Delaporte also sees a “perilous” moment when perseverance is necessary. President François Hollande has announced a departure at the end of March.  Delaporte considers this “as a bad signal and drew a parallel with Afghanistan for it gives the Taliban a timetable for when Westerners completely depart.

For a copy of the French article see the following:

Le Fargo Mali February 22 2013

The photos in this translation highlight the role of a key element for an insertion force operating rapidly in difficult terrain, namely the role of airlift and air dropping.

On the air drop revolution see the following video and commentary: