With French and Malian troops rolling into the town of Kidal in northern Mali, the war may appear to be over, now that the Islamist militias have withdrawn from all the population centers in the face of heavy airstrikes.Yet despite these achievements, many observers agree that the French Army has reached the limit of its capabilities in this conflict.
Moving motorized units to and between bases and logistics centers is a piece of cake for a European land power like France. Notably when their adversaries melt away into the desert after a few parting shots in each town.
The next phase of this conflict, however, will bear more in common with the American’s experience in Afghanistan than General Patton’s 1944 ride through Normandy. Lacking the Intelligence base and advanced unmanned drone technology that has enabled the US Army to maintain a stalemate (At best), the Franco-Malian forces can expect to be subject to ever more frequent hit-and run attacks that will require ever larger garrisons and expenses in terms of air support and construction of fortifications.
So until the inevitable crisis that catapults this story back onto the front pages, there is little the Franco-Malian forces can do but leave garrisons in the population centers and occasionally expose the 2,000 elite infantry units like the foreign legion on risky long-range patrols similar to those carried out in this very same region that often ended in catastrophe.
For all the cheers surrounding the French capture of the last population center not yet under
their control, this situation is merely an example of France taking out unfavorable elements in its “backyard”, using the locals to do most of the bleeding.
While the elite French Foreign Legion (composed of foreign infantry serving under French officers) is quite well known, other details about French use of foreign troops is less well remembered. France occupied a vast swath of African territory during the Colonial period, and like other colonizing powers, found it useful to recruit local soldiers. During World War 1, the French army began importing large numbers (over 450,000 by 1918) of troops from its African colonies. Called “Indigines”, previously, few of these troops had ever been expected to do more than quell local riots or had even been issued rifles, with predictable results in battle against the Germans.
However, the colonial infantry provided such useful cannon fodder that the system was continued into WW2. With a shrinking population even in the 1930′s, the French High command’s strategy was to fight the Germans to the last African soldier. Prior to the French defeat, over 430,000 had already crossed the Mediterranean, and recruitment of millions more was planned out. The value of this manpower is demonstrated by the fact that even the entire French Navy was deplayed in the Mediterranean to protect troop transports bringing African troops. However, their replacability in the eyes of the Hugh command is exemplified in the fact that 38% of the “Indigenes” died of illness over the first winter of the war, and the survivors of the Battle for France in 1940 were subject to massacres and years of hard labor in the Nazi death camps.
The irony is not lost on us that, after such a tragicomic history, the pattern continues to this day, small numbers of French special forced backed by advanced air support prop up a favored government or faction, while the “Indigenes” continue to do the bleeding. In just the past 10 years, We’ve seen this pattern repeat itself in the former French colonies of Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.
While France has maintained close military ties with its former possessions in Africa, Mali benefited less from this than most because the Military Junta that seized power in a coup shortly after that country’s independence in 1960 decided to accept Soviet military aid and orient their country in that direction. With the fall of the USSR, the donations stopped and the country could no longer rely on virtually free weapons from the Russians. With a mere 7000 troops and increasingly antique Russian weaponry, any kind of offensive without foreign support is quite impossible.
While the traditional media continues to applaud the French participation in the Mali conflict, its easy to forget just how close this situation affects their core interests. After all, from a purely national-security perspective, what concern should an unplanned regime change in a marginal country pose to a NATO power such as France?
Firstly, The twin wars France has participated in Mali and Libya make excellent distractions
from the ongoing corruption trial of former President Nikolas Sarkozy, as well as a sideshow veiling how severe the ongoing euro crisis truly is.
France hosts millions of poorly integrated Arab immigrants, who, inhabiting the vast slums surrounding Paris, have more than once virtually cut off the capital from the outside world whilst rioting. Numerous French Governments have made no secret that they refuse to countenance the existence of a radical Islamist State right smack in the middle of what is, despite de-colonization, France’s economic playground in west and central Africa.
Used by most of the Former French Countries in Africa, The CFA Franc is essentially propped up by France. The Evolution of the Acronym is an interesting one. Between 1945 and 1958, CFA stood for Colonies françaises d’Afrique (“French colonies of Africa”); then for Communauté française d’Afrique (“French Community of Africa”) between 1958 and the independence of these African countries at the beginning of the 1960s. Since independence, CFA is taken to mean Communauté Financière Africaine (African Financial Community). The verbiage may have changed, but this arrangement continues to virtually guarantee French economic dominance of the entire region.
Control of the currency allows French Interests dominate mining, oil production, and even control of port facilities. What enables this is the French Treasury guarantees the free convertibility at a fixed parity between the euro and the CFA and Comorian francs. This means that The French Treasury essentially guarantees the exchange rate. The possible creation of a modern day “Jihad State”, dedicated to spreading its zone of control into the rest of region would push this financial liability to unsustainable levels.
After all, the level of power that the CFA Franc provides to French economic interests makes Baron Rothchild’s old maxim that “If you let me control the currency, then I really don’t care who runs the country”. And the militia’s recently displaced from Mali’s towns are definitely many things, but a group likely to let France continue to control the local currency they most certainly are not.