France announces indefinite Sahel deployment

France’s defense minister has just announced plans to create a semi-permanent force of 4,000 troops across the entire Sahel and Sahara in former French West Africa, as it redeploys most of its troops in Mali.

“There will be 1,000 soldiers that remain in Mali, and 3,000 in the Sahel-Sahara zone, the danger zone, the zone of all types of smuggling,” Mr Le Drian said, in a television interview.

“We will stay as long as necessary. There is no fixed date,” he added.

French forces will be based in four regional centres – Mali, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso – Reuters news agency reports.

Smaller bases from which to launch strikes are being set up, with Ivory Coast as the mission’s logistical hub, it adds.

 
I find this development fairly troubling. France should too. Open-ended commitments are rarely a good idea.

However, it’s also not surprising, given the increasing re-involvement of France in the security affairs of its former African colonies in the past decade. A small, permanent force in several locations in or near the Sahel/Sahara is probably the only way (from a feasibility standpoint) that France can both avoid permanent and ineffective occupations (at much higher cost in lives and money) and respond quickly to rising threats, kidnappings, etc., which it feels it must do for its own security.

All the same, this open-ended, rapid-reaction wack-a-mole approach to counterterrorism — where they keep thousands of troops all over West Africa (and Central African Republic nearby) before periodically bursting into neighboring countries for a minute, guns blazing, like Operation Neptune Spear — makes France seem more than a bit neo-colonial.

French troops being airlifted to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)It also seems like an easy step down the path toward becoming completely mired in an unwinnable, transnational counterinsurgency operation in the Sahel — something others have warned against previously often.

As ever, the Sahel needs more of a Marshall Plan development aid strategy than troop deployments.

Colonial sci-fi

Very interesting Atlantic article this week: “Why Sci-Fi Keeps Imagining the Subjugation of White People”

A researcher doing a meta-analysis of science fiction found its initial rise to prominence and formation as a coherent genre is tied directly to the height of imperial Britain and colonial France, both in time and place. Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and so on.

(And though it wasn’t mentioned in the piece, American sci-fi like A Princess of Mars/John Carter of Mars, a serialized allegory about the American Civil War, rose to prominence just a little later as America became a global power, between the Spanish-American War and U.S. entry into World War I.)

After its origins in imperial Britain and colonial France, the genre’s allegory has broadly bifurcated into “we’ll get what was coming to us for the horrors of colonial oppression” versus “man, this is awesome — we should keep killing everyone who doesn’t look like us because we’re the best, and if we don’t, we’ll be oppressed, and white people don’t deserve that.”

As for myself, I find my tastes distinctly in the former camp. Box office bomb aside, I refused to watch Disney’s “John Carter” on principle, because the original story is an obvious allegorical paean to the Confederacy and antebellum South through the lens of a race war between aliens on another planet. The antebellum South, of course, being the height of America’s internal white supremacist colonialism.

Also my tastes tend that way just because I’m totally the type of person who would try to surrender the entire planet to an invading alien military, instead of trying to re-enact “Independence Day.” Maybe that makes me the Marshal Philippe Pétain of our planetary future, but I just assume that if a huge landing force of aliens arrives at Earth while we’re still sending people to our dinky “space” station (which is actually still in our atmosphere) on barely-upgraded-from-the-Soviet-era spaceships, we’ve probably already lost that conflict. Better to surrender quickly and wage a guerrilla resistance to wear the occupiers down — what we humans do best — than try to fight off the initial invasion and lose everything. Or, failing that, we’ll just get what’s coming to us.

Illustration: "Martians vs. Thunder Child" from a 1906 printing of "The War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells.

Illustration: “Martians vs. Thunder Child” from a 1906 printing of “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells.

More intervention troops to Central African Republic?

As the reciprocal mass killings continue to rage across the Central African Republic despite the rising numbers of regional African Union troops and existing French United Nations troops, the U.N. is now saying they may need at least ten thousand intervention troops, several thousand more than have already been ordered to the country. These troops, unlike many peacekeeping missions, are authorized to use proactive force to protect civilians and end violence.

The AU intervention force — which has already clashed repeatedly with protesters and militia groups over their conflicts-of-interest in the country — will soon be at 6,000. The UN has also already cleared 600 more intervention troops to come in from the European Union. Former colonial ruler France alone has 1,200 troops on the ground, mostly protecting key points in the capital, including refugees at the airport.

More than 1 in 5 people in the country has been forced to flee their homes, caught in the vengeful crossfire of Muslim and Christian militias after a rebel coalition was disbanded and went on a rampage last year. Unlike the reasonably cautious negotiation progress seen in next-door South Sudan, the C.A.R. has not seen much relief from the violence and humanitarian crisis, despite the efforts of a dozen leaders from across the region, who even secured the appointment of a new bridge-building president recently.

The large country, facing a refugee crisis of one million, will probably realistically require more than even ten thousand. But if the lengthy problems with the neighboring Congo missions are any indication, a United Nations force will always be under-manned relative to the scale and geography of the crisis. Plus, with the recent deaths of peacekeeping troops in South Sudan, while protecting refugees on a UN base, it’s going to be a tough sell right now to get countries to contribute boots on the ground.

UN backs French peacekeepers into Central African Republic

After sectarian killings in the Central African Republic accelerated this week, leaving over a hundred dead on Thursday morning alone, the United Nations Security Council finally acted to authorize France to begin an active peacekeeping role, with its troops who were already on their way. Air and street patrols began today in the capital. The French troops join a small African Union force also on the ground already.

Background discussion: Episode 65.

France: Back to Africa

From the BBC’s West Africa analyst, Paul Melly, today:

Central African Republic crisis: Another French intervention?
A fresh crisis in Africa – and once again French troops are on their way. This time around 1,000 extra soldiers are heading to the Central African Republic (CAR) to restore order after a rebel takeover. They will supplement the 400 odd French troops already on the ground in the country.

So what’s new? Is this just a case of Paris once again acting as gendarme in a former sub-Saharan colony?

Are we back to the days when the famously influential Jacques Foccart acted as Africa adviser in the Elysee Palace and French paratroops made and unmade governments, protecting allies – some of them deeply unsavoury – and displacing supposed troublemakers?

[…]

But the temptation to reach for old history should be resisted. We are not in the 1970s. Africa has changed. And so has France.

This piece is a very solid and detailed look at the major shift in Africa policy undertaken by the Socialists during the 1990s and then again since 2012. Nicolas Sarkozy, a conservative from the UMP, also made contributions in the same direction — but his less diplomatic approach toward interventions angered many African leaders, whereas François Hollande works closely with regional leaders to get their approval prior to going into Mali, earlier this year.

Sarkozy’s biggest achievement, however, was crucial: ending France’s official support for “incumbent regimes” in Africa friendly toward France. Now, bad is bad and no dictators are automatically safe.

Further background on the situation in the Central African Republic: AFD Episode 65 and Episode 60.

AFD 60 – Furlough

Latest Episode:
“AFD 60 – Furlough”
Posted: Tues, 15 October 2013

Guest commentator Melanie joins Bill to talk about the impact of having most Federal workers on unpaid leave from their jobs during the shutdown. Then Bill looks at food inspection problems in the U.S. Guest commentator Sarah discusses a court decision in Nebraska. Bill examines political mirroring between France and a former African colony.

Additional links:

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/10/11/20926440-statue-of-liberty-mount-rushmore-other-national-parks-to-reopen-during-shutdown

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/10/shutdown-salmonella/

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/10/11/2770331/salmonella-usda-regulation-fail/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/14/world/europe/france-to-send-more-troops-into-africa.html

http://allafrica.com/stories/201310110610.html

http://allafrica.com/stories/201310110463.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-21913926

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/world/africa/michel-djotodia-leader-of-coup-in-central-african-republic-holds-on-to-power.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/10/french-polls-surge-support-national-front

Mali update: African regional troops arriving; France playing wack-a-mole

U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Jason SmithThe BBC Africa service reports that the first 200 Nigerian troops of the UN intervention force are on their way to Mali. Nigeria plans to deploy 700 more along with fighter jets in the coming weeks. They will be leading the African forces in the UN mission. French military ally and regional neighbor Chad has committed 2,000 troops. Benin, neighboring Ghana, neighboring Niger, neighboring Senegal, neighboring Burkina Faso, and Togo also plan to participate in the police action, with probably about 400 more troops between them.

The UN-created coalition (read: PDF of UNSC Resolution 2085 from December 2012) has been named the “African-led International Support Mission in Mali” (AFISMA) and is tasked with re-capturing northern Mali from Tuareg separatist groups, training the Malian Army who apparently didn’t take direction well from the US trainers, supporting the interim democratic government to prevent another military coup, and organizing the safety of humanitarian missions.

The deployment has been accelerated by quite a few months due to the sudden progression of separatist troops beyond the unofficial dividing line in the conflict which prompted the start of a major French military campaign last Friday in response. France and the other Western powers believe that many of the separatist organizations in the impoverished, sparsely populated semi-desert region of northern Mali have links to terrorism including Al Qaeda affiliates.

One of the major groups claiming to represent the political and military aspects of the Tuareg ethnic separatist movement is an explicitly Islamist political group called Ansar Dine, which purports to impose some form of Sharia law across northern Mali and possibly the whole of Mali. Their main rival group is the longtime leading organization of the separatists known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA being the French abbreviation), which is secular and pro-independence and probably wasn’t really tied to terrorism. However, the MNLA lost territorial control of northern Mali in June 2012 to the Ansar Dine in a series of internecine skirmishes while the Malian government was still in some disarray from the spring military coup. (The coup took place in the south during the latest of many northern Tuareg rebellions over the past 99 years.)

Although the Malian government has long accused the MNLA of terrorist links for the cynical purpose of getting “War on Terror” funding from Western governments, it is far more credible to assert real terrorist links between the Ansar Dine and similar Islamist insurgent operations in North and East Africa, including Al Qaeda of the Maghreb (North Africa) or more likely the Shahab in Somalia (who have themselves recently been severely disrupted by intense African Union military campaigns). This rise of Ansar Dine and their serious movements toward expanding into the more populous southern “half” of Mali has understandably caused an uptick in concern and attention from the Western governments, thus prompting the sudden French intervention last week.

Meanwhile, as West African troops arrive, France (which I’m not sure will be part of the AFISMA/UN mission at all) now has 800 troops on the ground in Mali and that number is set to swell to 2,500. 50 armored vehicles have been deployed northward toward the front. The unilateral French air campaign in the north in support of the Malian government in the south continues at full tilt out of air bases in Chad.

The Malian Army is only participating lightly in ground actions coordinated with these airstrikes — hampering efforts to consolidate and hold any gains — and are reportedly fighting in “hand-to-hand combat” with rebels just 220 miles north of the capital, which seems fairly unproductive to me. Although the French operation initially dislodged the separatist forces from the informal border line between north and south this past weekend, these rebel troops suddenly reappeared on Monday much further southwest into government-held territory.

However, the separatist force holding Timbuktu seems to have withdrawn entirely from the ancient city, according to locals. It’s a bit of a game of wack-a-mole right now without much ground cooperation to keep any ground “won” from the bombings.