The Mali Intervention : An Initial Assessment


2013-02-03 By Lt. General (Retired) Gaviard

In a recent interview with the French weekly, L’Express, Lt. General (Retired) Gaviard discussed the progress of the French intervention to date.

At this stage in the Serval operation, what are the reasons for the French armed forces success in Mali?

The first phase of operation rests on two important elements.

French soldiers in Mali. Credit: French Ministry of Defense 

The first element is the importance of the entry or intervention capacity. The enemies, the jihadists thought they could undo the weakened Malian army by a classical type of attack.

But they undoubtedly under-estimated the French army’s capacity of intervention, that halted their success in a symmetric fight where the French military holds a clear advantage.

Elements of surprise and rapidity are crucial in armed conflicts.

This French capacity of rapid entry, (which is relatively rare in Europe) requires important means of intelligence, of force projection and power. To be sure, the French military are sometimes stretched to a breaking point like in Libya and today in Mali.

But the French armed forces have a real know-how inherited from significant experience and high quality training that needs to be maintained in the pressure of budget cuts.

The second element, is a unique decision making-process that allows the President, commander-in-chief, to come to operational decisions very rapidly.

This process allows the President to convene a defense council whenever he sees fit. In this council, the President receives updates on a given situation and the means of actions that he can engage, as well as the risks connected to the engagement. The ministers of foreign affairs, defense, and interior (because of threats to the homeland) are present, as well as the Chief of the Defense Staff, who is responsible for the use of forces under the President’s  authority.

What is the next phase of the operation ?

An “exit strategy” will need to be put forward by giving priority to a “global approach.”

This means a quick takeover by the African forces  in order to avoid a long, costly and perhaps dangerous deadlock as the Afghan experience have shown.

It was first necessary to release funds for the forces of the ECOWAS  (Economic Community of West African States) that will need to take over the stabilization mission.

The January 29th meeting in Addis Abeba of the African Union allowed to raise the necessary funds. From a military point of view, this take-over should go over smoothly. French soldiers have a long experience in dealing with African forces, because of their collaboration in Ivory Coast.

The withdrawal of our forces could be achieved before the rainy season in May. In cases of emergency, a quick reaction force (several Army companies, helicopters and fighter jets) will need to be well positioned as a backup on the theater.

In parallel, we need to help in the restoring of the Malian army.

The European Union plays a part in that with the EUTM (European Union Training Mission), led by the French general François Lecointre which is currently being deployed. Lastly, in cooperation with the African Union, the European Union will need to be tasked to help in the reconstruction of the Malian justice system.

Lt. General (Retired), Jean-Patrick Gaviard is the former chief of operations of the French Joint Chief of Staff. 

The translation has been provided by Franck Znaty and is produced with the permission of General Gaviard.

For other pieces on France and Mali published on Second Line of Defense see the following: