France Looks to Cut Forces in Mali as Focus Shifts to C. Africa

France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made a visit yesterday to Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic.  France has approximately sixteen hundred personnel currently in CAR as part of Operation Sangaris and Le Drian praised their efforts.  He also reiterated that French forces were there to assist the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) and would not take on any expanded role in the country.

Map of Central African Republic

Map of Central African Republic

The visit to CAR follows a visit to Mali, where Le Drian announced that French forces there would be reduced to approximately one thousand personnel by March of this year. French forces are currently operating their as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  This past December, France also announced its intention to deploy MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles to Niger to assist operation Mali.  The first of these was reportedly deployed yesterday.  The US also has a unmanned aerial vehicle operation based in Niger.  Unlike American MQ-9s, French Reapers will not be armed.

An American MQ-9 Reaper returns to base after a mission in Afghanistan.  French Reapers will not be armed like this one.

An American MQ-9 Reaper returns to base after a mission in Afghanistan. French Reapers will not be armed like this one.

However, if the experience in Mali and the continuing violence in CAR are any indications, France may have a hard time keeping to Le Drian’s promises.  Though a certain status quo has been restored in Mali, significant points of contention remain between the country’s government, Tuareg nomads, and Islamists, some of whom are believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda.  France had initially hoped to have departed from Mali in part or in total by as early as April 2013, and has since continually pushed back any significant reductions in the force there.  French forces have also been accused by both the Malian government and the Tuaregs of bias in the conflict.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013

In CAR, African peacekeepers have similarly been accused of choosing sides and there is some dissatisfaction from nominally Christian anti-balaka militia with the failure of the French intervention to outright oust current President Michel Djotodia.  Two French soldiers were killed by anti-balaka militiamen in CAR last month.  While it remains to be seen whether French forces in CAR will be reinforced in the end, unlike with the intervention in Mali, no indication of a planned withdrawal timetable has yet been given.

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