Francois Hollande, already one of the most hated Presidents in French history, is clearly desperate to try to change his image of being Mr “couille molle” (literally: limp dick), a nickname he got from within his own political party. Like Sarkozy, he wants to flex some military muscle to prove that he is also a great man.
Nevermind that the French soldiers are underpaid, under-equipped, and that most their promotions have been put on indefinite hold. Hollande has clearly tried to show some good old machismo, and the results are a total disaster.
a) In Somalia, the French botched a commando rescue operation to save one of their operatives who had been kidnapped 3 years ago. Result: dead hostage, one killed commando, one missing in action.
b) In Mali, the French have embarked on a major military operation to try to somehow prop up the collapsing Bamako government.
c) In Algeria, French hostages have been taken by Islamist insurgents.
In the first case, the French have been on the wrong side of history since many years already, but in the second and third cases, this is a direct result of “blowback” form the French war on Libya to topple and murder Muammar Gaddafi.
It is sadly ironic that the forces which the French Rafales are bombing today in Mali are the very same forces on whose behalf the French Rafales bombed Libya. This time, however, the French are engaged in a war they simply cannot win. Take a look at the size of the real theatre of operations:
This territory is *huge*. Just the size of the newly declared state of Azawad (in red in the picture above) is twice the size of Germany. The actual theatre of operations is far bigger as this map shows in green. One could wonder what in the world the French were thinking before taking on such an insane task?
The sad reality is that France has a long history of engaging in insanely stupid military operations. Most of you probably heard of the Dien Bien Phu disaster. But very few people know that under President Jacques Chirac the French proposed a copycat of the Dien Bien Phu operation to the NATO command, but this time in the mountains of eastern Bosnia: the French offered to send paratroopers into the Bosnian-Muslim city of Gorazde which was surrounded on all sides by mountains controlled not by the Viet Minh forces, but by the Bosnian-Serbs. Take a look at where the French wanted to send their troops:
All they wanted from the Americans was to have US helicopters transport the French troops into Gorazde. Needless to say, the Americans categorically refused. In disgust, Holbrooke even called this crazy idea ‘Dien Bien Gorazde’! Anglo pragmatism and sense of history really saved a lot of lives on this occasion!
This time around, the French don’t want to send their paratroopers into a surrounded “rice bowl bottom” as in Dien Bien Phu or Gorazde, this time they want to control most of the Sahara desert with roughly 1’400 men and airstrikes. Brilliant no?
Nevermind that there are no good targets to strike there. The best the French aviation can provide is reconnaissance and close air support to its contingent on land. Useful, yes, but most definitely not enough to make a real difference. Desert warfare is very similar to naval warfare in which the battlefield constantly changes, with no real lines of defense, no key objectives to control, and an environment which basically cannot be “held” in any meaningful way. Logistics, however, are always a nightmare.
According to the BBC these are the forces available to the French right now:
- Some 1,400 French troops in Mali, 900 troops involved elsewhere in Africa
- French Mirage and Rafale jets, Gazelle helicopters
- Chad to send 2,000 troops
- Nigeria to send 900 troops; Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger and Togo expected to send 500 each, and Benin 300
- Ghana, Guinea and Chad also to send troops
- UK providing two C17 cargo planes for French effort
- Belgium and Denmark also sending transport planes
- US to provide communications help
You can immediately forget the cosmetic contributions in forces from Chad, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Ghana and other African “military superpowers”. They will not fire a single shot and most of what they will do is provide some (mostly symbolic) security in populated areas.
As for the transport planes provided by NATO allies, they are not sufficient and this is why Russia is “helping” France by transporting heavy equipment in AN-124 heavy lift transporters (for money, of course). Needless to say, the Western corporate media is not reporting this rather embarrassing need for Russian assistance.
The USA has secret bases inside Mali, even in Azawad, mostly special forces deployed as part of the GWOT and the US hunt for al-Qaeda, but they are staying well clear from the French operation. For all practical purposes, the French are very much on their own, at least as far as real, boots on the ground, combat is concerned.
The French will enjoy better mobility, better communications, better electronic intelligence and superior firepower. None of that will make any damn difference. The Tuaregs, whom the French are now fighting have been at this war literally for years, and now they have benefited from an absolutely huge influx from fighters and military equipment from Libya, courtesy of France’s war on Libya.
As for the Islamists, as the attack in Algeria has shown, they can strike anywhere they want, even in Senegal, Ivory Coast or even Cameroon. Heck, they can easily strike even in France itself, which now has something in the range of 25% of all of its population immigrants from northern Africa.
Bottom line: France is walking straight into a disaster of epic proportions, and it is doing that at a time when the French economy has come to a practical standstill and under the rule of a clueless President whose only distinguishing characteristic is his formidable mediocrity and absolute lack of imagination.
This is an explosive situation which could explode into a real social crisis very rapidly.