Tag Archives: France

Phoenix Express 14 Features More European than African Participants

This year’s annual Phoenix Express maritime security exercise has kicked off in Greece. Naval forces from Algeria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United States are currently conducting the in-port portion of the exercise at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre (NMIOTC) on Souda Naval Base, near the city of Chania.

Moroccan and Libyan personnel conduct medical training with the US military at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre in Greece during Phoenix Express 14.

Moroccan and Libyan personnel conduct medical training with the US military at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre in Greece during Phoenix Express 14.

Six of the ten participants this year are European nations, if one includes Malta. The island nation is a member of the European Union, but is just over 200 miles from Libya and less than 200 miles from Tunisia. Phoenix Express’ focus on the Mediterranean Sea means that European nations regularly outnumber African participants in the exercise. There are only five African nations on the Sea compared to more than twice as many European nations.

However, European participation also highlights how important African security is to the bigger picture in the region, especially with regards to drug trafficking and illegal immigration. The continuing instability in Libya is particularly worrisome for nations in Southern Europe. France, Italy, and Greece have repeatedly sparred over how best to tackle the issue. As already mentioned, Greece is hosting the in-port phase of the exercise. The at-sea phase, scheduled to begin on May 24th, will be coordinated from a Combined Maritime Operations Center in Sigonella, Italy. France, who is currently engaged in a number of interventions in Africa, is conspicuously absent from this year’s exercise despite having participated in the past.

As usual, this year’s Phoenix Express exercise will focus on maritime interdiction operations (MIO) training. The training events in-port will include helicopter operations and safety, damage control and firefighting, deck seamanship, navigation, search and rescue (SAR), and small boat training. The underway component at sea will focus on further enhancing interoperability. Medical training will also be provided. The exercise is scheduled to wrap up on June 2nd.

Phoenix Express 14 will mark the eighth iteration of the exercise, which began in 2005 as a US European Command event run by US Naval Forces Europe (NAVFOREUR). After the creation of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008, the exercise changed hands and is now run by US Naval Forces Africa (NAVFORAF). The commander of NAVFORAF is dual-hatted as the commander of NAVFOREUR, making the change in responsibility in this case almost entirely administrative.

UN Security Council Approves Peacekeeping Force for CAR

Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2149, which approves the establishment of a UN peacekeeping force in Central African Republic. The resolution provides for a force of approximately twelve thousand personnel under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, including some ten thousand troops and almost two thousand police. The crisis in CAR has left thousands dead, displaced almost seven hundred thousand people internally, and forced almost three hundred thousand to flee the country. The UN estimates that over two million people, approximately half of the country’s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA's Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA’s Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

The decision comes as the African Union’s African-led International Support Mission in the CAR (MISCA), support by French forces, continues to struggle with violence in the country. MISCA, which is already operating with a UN mandate, had some six-thousand personnel at the beginning of last week. Last Friday, Chadian forces pulled out of the country following clashes in the capital Bangui in which ten people were killed. Chadian troops claimed they were acting in self defense, but other reports suggested they had fired indiscriminately into a crowd. This is not the first time Chadian peacekeepers have been involved in questionable incidents or had been accused of complicity with ex-Seleka rebels. The loss of the eight-hundred and fifty-man contingent was a significant blow to MISCA.

MISCA is scheduled to turn over responsibility for peacekeeping to the new UN force, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in CAR (MINUSCA), by 15 September 2014. There is no word yet what countries might step forward to provide MINUSCA with the additional forces it requires. Many African nations are already participating in the effort, as well as efforts elsewhere. France, who has been a major contributor to peacekeeping efforts on the continent and who has been in CAR since the beginning of the year as part of their Operation Sangaris, has had only limited success in rallying the rest of the European Union to contribute forces. In January, the EU approved the deployment of a small five-hundred strong force to the country. The force, dubbed EUFOR RCA (EU Force République Centrafricaine) was eventually expanded to one thousand personnel, but was delayed and only arrived in the country last week.

The United States has also supported the efforts in CAR, as part of Operation Echo Casemate. However, so far this support has been limited to logistical support and the airlifting of additional African peacekeeping forces. The US will likely continue to provide this support to the expanded UN mission, but there is no indication that any American troops will deploy to the country to take a more active part in the peacekeeping mission.

France Opposes Central African Republic Partition

French President Francois Hollande said today that the primary mission for his country’s forces in Central African Republic is to prevent a de facto partition there. President Hollande made the remarks to French troops in CAR’s capital Bangui.  He is on his second visit to the embattled country in three months.  France has some two thousand personnel in the country as part of Operation Sangaris, an intervention that began last December.

French troops patrol in Central African Republic with African forces from the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), 24 February 2014

French troops patrol in Central African Republic with African forces from the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), 24 February 2014

The visit comes just days after France’s parliament voted to extend the duration of the operation.  Parliamentarians voted for the extension despite some criticizing President Hollande for underestimating the situation there. Two French soldiers have been killed as international peacekeepers try to disarm militias and stem the violence.

CAR has been locked in crisis since nominally Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize last March. Their leader, Michel Djotodia formally disbanded the group after being named Interim President, but former rebels continued to operate with virtual impunity.

Violence has exploded, however, following Djotodia’s resignation and subsequent departure into exile in January. International forces, operating in CAR under a UN mandate, have been unable to prevent a string of violent reprisals against Muslim communities, especially in Bangui. Muslims have been fleeing the capital in recent weeks in the face of attacks from nominally Christian self-defense groups, collectively referred to as anti-balaka, which sprang up in response to the activities of ex-Seleka rebels.

This has in turn given rise to fears of a de facto partition of the country between the nominally Christian western portion and the nominally Muslim eastern portion.  Aid agencies have also been reportedly faced with the dilemma about whether to assist in the movement of communities away from the violence. While this might save groups from massacres at the hands of various localized armed groups, it could also be in service of what amounts to “ethnic cleansing” and reinforce fears of a split in the country. The duty to protect civilians and fears about essentially assisting in atrocities have proven continually to be difficult to balance in peacekeeping operations, including notably during UN efforts in Bosnia in the 1990s.

CAR’s new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, has basically declared war on militias, but with accusations of complicity on the part of government security forces and the limited resources of international forces currently, there has been little movement to curtail their activities. Currently there are six thousand African peacekeepers in the country, in addition to the French forces there. The European Union has pledged additional forces, and it is hoped that the international presence in CAR will expand soon to a total of some nine-thousand personnel.

A good example of the difficulties that peacekeepers have faced came earlier this week when the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) reported the arrest of Patrick Edouard Ngaissona.  Ngaissona styles himself a “coordinator” of anti-balaka groups. However, MISCA retracted this statement yesterday, saying instead that they had actually captured a more minor anti-balaka member of the same name.  President Hollande is to meet with Interim President Samba-Panza, no doubt to discuss the issue of militias among other problems that the country faces.

French Operation in Central African Republic May Be Extended

French parliamentarians in the country’s lower legislative house voted today to extend France’s intervention in Central African Republic.  As per French law, a vote must be held on military campaigns lasting more than four months. France currently has approximately two thousand personnel in CAR, where there are also some six thousand African peacekeepers.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA's Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA’s Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

French lawmakers criticized President Francois Hollande over the intervention, despite voting to continue it.  President Hollande had promised that the intervention, codenamed Operation Sangaris, would only last six months when it began last December. The situation CAR means that the intervention is likely to continue beyond that time frame.  France has even begun shifting forces around in Africa and elsewhere in order to bolster its operation in the country.

Even these additional reinforcements have not been enough to stem rising inter-communal violence in the country. The violence stems from the violent ouster of the country’s President, Francois Bozize, last March.  Nominally Muslim Seleka rebels deposed Bozize and their leader, Michel Djotodia subsequently took power as the country’s Interim President.  Despite attempts to curtail the rebels, they operated with virtual impunity in many parts of the country, including the capital, Bangui. In response, nominally Christian communities who felt targeted by violence and criminality, formed self-defense militias, collectively referred to as anti-balaka.

Djotodia resigned his post in January and fled into exile. Anti-balaka militias have since been accused of atrocities themselves, as they conduct reprisals against former rebels and those they link to them. Despite similar efforts to disarm these militias, the violence has continued, leading to events like a mass exodus of Muslims from the capital. French and African peacekeepers have been overwhelmed trying to provide basic law and order, and France has repeatedly called on European allies and the UN to deploy additional personnel.

Last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon did put forward a six-point plan that included provisions for additional troops and police. French and African peacekeepers in CAR are currently operating under a UN mandate. However, it will take time for any additional forces to arrive and it is time that CAR might not have. The UN estimates that over two million people in CAR, amounting to almost half of the country’s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.  More than seven hundred thousand have been displaced internally and almost three hundred thousand have fled into neighboring countries. There is a fear that the violence could spillover, especially into Cameroon. The crisis has also likely resulted in the deaths of thousands, but the instability has prevented any sort of accurate, independent assessment.

Central African Republic’s Violence Proving Difficult to Quell

It was reported today that attempts to disarm nominally Christian militias in Central African Republic, broadly referred to as anti-balaka, had been met with resistance.  Unsurprisingly, the anti-balaka militiamen reportedly did not wish to be disarmed by force by international peacekeepers and also demanded that efforts be made to disarm former members of the nominally Muslim Seleka rebel group.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA's Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, refugees in neighboring countries (in thousands), along with highlighting of areas of significant tensions, from OCHA’s Humanitarian Snapshot, dated 10 February 2014.

Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize last March, taking control and touching off a cycle of inter-communal violence in the country.  The anti-balaka militias had come into existence initially to provide a measure of self-defense against ex-Seleka rebels, who operated with virtual impunity under the administration of Interim President Michel Djotodia, who had led the group.  Djotodia resigned and fled into exile last month, and since then the anti-balaka militias have exacted brutal reprisals on those they accuse of being rebels or otherwise associating with them.

International peacekeepers have found themselves strained to adequately protect civilians caught in the current crisis, and there have been accusations of complicity with armed groups, notably with regards to Chad.  Government security forces have also been accused of complicity and the International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary examination into possible crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the country.

In response to the continuing violence, France announced yesterday that it will send an additional four hundred personnel to CAR, bringing the total size of its contingent to two thousand individuals.  France’s intervention, codenamed Operation Sangaris, began last December.  The European Union also announced yesterday that it is now planning to send one thousand troops to CAR, doubling its original commitment.

There remain concerns that the additional forces will still not be enough to contain the violence.  The United Nations’ Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, said that “the United Nations and its regional partners face an urgent test” in CAR.  Secretary General Ban called on the international community to continue to work to end the crisis.  There remain few accurate estimates of the current death toll, but hundreds of thousands have been displaced internally and are in need of humanitarian assistance.  Some two-hundred and fifty thousand have also fled to neighboring countries.

Nigerien Minister Suggests France, US Should Intervene Again in Libya

In an interview with Radio France Internationale broadcast today, Nigerien Interior Minister suggested that France and the US should consider an intervention into Libya to address terrorism in that country’s southern region.  Massoudou Hassoumi said southern Libya had become “an incubator for terrorist groups” and that the countries who supported the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi should “provide an after-sales service.”

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

Since the ouster and execution of Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has suffered from chronic instability as various militias continue to operate with impunity.  The US, France, and other countries provided materiel support to various armed opposition factions, along with a sustained air campaign that allowed them to take control of the country.  The new central government has largely failed in its attempts to get these factions under control.  For instance, four Egyptian diplomats were abducted last week in what was said to be a reprisal for government action against a prominent militia leader.

Terrorism is indeed a growing threat in Libya.  The US Department of State designated two groups in Libya as both Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) last month.  Militant groups have also looted Libya for weapons, with man-portable surface-to-air missiles being among the weapons thought to have been taken. Efforts to train Libya’s national security forces to respond to these threats are scheduled to begin this year.

The potential threats posed by absence of government control in Libya is well known.  Tuareg insurgents in Mali were originally located in Libya and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have also used Libyan territory as a staging ground for attacks in neighboring countries. Niger has already been involved in increasing international precense to counter such activities in the region.  Both the US and France conduct drone reconnaissance operations from the country.

However, the US so far has declined to deploy significant numbers of troops to the region, preferring to support other countries and otherwise rely on unmanned aerial vehicles and special operations forces to conduct raids on isolated targets.  France is also finding its military strained by interventions in Africa, despite having a clear interest in expanding its ability to respond to threats on the continent.  Its primary focus has shifted to Central African Republic, with the hope that other European nations will be able to assist in countries like Mali.  The Netherlands recently began deploying peacekeepers to that country, and Germany announced today that it would look to increase its training mission there.

UN Authorizes Expansion to Peacekeeping Mission in CAR

The United Nations Security Council today unanimously adopted a new resolution regarding the crisis in Central African Republic.  Among the provisions was to provide a UN mandate to the European Union’s planned addition to international peacekeeping efforts in the country.  The new mandate will allow the EU to send five hundred personnel to help provide stability as the country attempts to move past its current crisis, which has killed an untold number and resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

However, there are concerns that the EU’s new contingent will still not be enough to stabilize the situation.  France’s ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said that the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) is now considered too small to deal with a situation he called “very, very dire”.  The African Union recently approved expanding the size of MISCA to some six thousand personnel.  France currently has some sixteen hundred personnel in CAR.  So far, it has been reported that Estonia, the Czech Republic, and Poland have stepped forward to contribute to the UN mission.  All three countries are also NATO members and all have contributed to other international military missions, notably NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

Military intervention is also only one component of the strategy.  The UNSC’s new resolution also extended the mandate of the UN’s peacebuilding office in CAR, as well as authorizing the use of travel bans and assets freezes as targeted measures.  No specific entities were named in the resolution, but the United States had previously made a similarly broad threat to target any individuals or groups standing in the way of peace and reconciliation in the country.

Peace and reconciliation are of paramount concern.  The country’s new Interim President, , has called for communities to band together to end the violence.  However, on the day of her inauguration, nominally Christian militias, known as anti-balaka, attacked and looted members of the Muslim population in the capital Bangui, seen as support former members of the Seleka rebel movement.  The rebels ousted President Francois Bozize last March, which eventually led to the current crisis.  As peacekeepers attempted to evacuate former Seleka rebels in a bid to restore order in the capital, Muslims also fled, fearing more reprisals.

Also worrisome is that some of the former rebels who agreed to be evacuated have since disappeared, possibly to regroup and launch a new insurgency.  The lack of any clearly defined hierarchy and command structure among former rebels has meant that securing ceasefires and other agreements has been difficult.  It is likely that former rebels will take a number of different paths toward any new relationship with the current transitional government.