This month’s terrorist attacks in France have been linked to Al Qaeda’s powerful franchise in Yemen. France has a built-in advantage if it decides on some kind of foreign military response to the attacks or to the more general p: the country actually has one of the most forward-deployed militaries in the world.
And its military has been active recently. France has played a pivotal — and at times unilateral — role in tackling extremism and civil unrest throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
This role is aided by France’s history of colonialism in Africa. Although a painful aspect of modern French history, the often-brutal and exploitative colonial project left France with a network of major military bases across the continent that survives into the present day, as shown below and according to Radio France Internationale.
Currently, France has over 3,000 troops spread across five countries in Africa — Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad — as part of Operation Burkhane. Based in Chad, the operation aims at disrupting potential militants threat across the Sahel region of the continent.
Aside from combatting jihadist militancy, France also pushed heavily for intervention in Libya during the the country’s uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, and has been involved in peacekeeping operations in various African countries.
Here are some of France’s most notable recent interventions.
On January 11, 2013, France launched airstrikes against jihadist positions in northern Mali as part of Operation Serval.
The goal of the intervention was to prevent “the establishment of a terrorist state” after armed groups linked to al Qaeda took over vast stretches of Mali starting in March 2012, after a military coup in the capital of Bamako that led to a nation-wide power vacuum. France became involved in Mali following a request from the new Malian president and after jihadist columns began approaching the country’s populated south.
French involvement in Mali eventually morphed into a larger operation that involved ground troops and French special forces.
France’s successes in Mali, according to RAND, could serve as a model for future US expeditionary warfare as French troops operated in small, efficient, and scalable units that made significant efforts to ingratiate themselves with the local population.
Operation Serval, which ended in 2014 and at its height involved 4,000 French soldiers, was largely successful in helping Mali push the al Qaeda -inked rebels out from the north of the country.
France has followed Operation Serval with Operation Barkhane, a task force of 3,000 French soldiers dedicated to tracking Islamist rebels against the wider sub-Saharan area.
Central African Republic
In 2008, Francemoved300 troops into the Central African Republic’s (CAR) capital of Bangui. The soldiers were involved in helping to helping to stabilise the country in the face of rebel attacks spilling over from the conflict-torn Darfur region of neighbouring Sudan.
In December 2013, France began reinforcing these soldiers in an attempt to stabilise CAR after a rebel coalition overthrew the country’s government, sparking a brutal sectarian conflict between Muslim and Christian armed groups. France increased the number of soldiers in the country to 2,000. But now that UN peacekeepers are being deployed to CAR, France is expected to dial back its number of soldiers in the country to 800.
The UN Security Council, following a resolution submitted by France, will send 12,000 peacekeepers to the country. CAR faces ethnic-religious cleansing after the country’s Christian majority started carrying out reprisal killings against Muslims following the rebels’ overthrow of the government.
French troops have played some role in Chad since the late 1986 as part ofOperation Epervier. The operation was designed to help Chad maintain its territorial integrity according to a bilateral agreement signed after Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s failed invasion of the country.
However, French troops never fully left Chad. Instead, the French established a base at N’Djamena, Chad’s capital. A contingent of approximately 800 French soldiers remained at the base and helped provide Chadian authorities with aerial surveillance on the advance of Sudanese government-supported rebels, acting as a crucial force multiplier for Chadian dictator Idris Deby during battles in the capital in 2006 and 2008.
As part of a global mission to tackle militancy across Africa, France launched Operation Barkhane in 2014 as a continuation of Operation Epervier and Operation Servel. Operation Barkhane will be headquarted at N’Djamena and 1,200 troops will be stationed in Chad.
France has had anuneasy historywith Côte d’Ivoire, also known as the Ivory Coast.
After gaining independence in 1960, the two countries had positive relations that worsened under President Laurent Gbagbo starting in 2000. In 2002, a civil war split the Ivory Coast in half and the French intervened in Operation Unicorn.
Peace was largely brokered in the Ivory Coast by 2007. But the country remained effectively divided and French soldiers continued to stay in the country. In 2011, violence again flared as Gbagbo refused to hand over power to his democratically elected successor, Alassane Ouattara. French troops played a key role in removing Gbabgo from power.
Under France’s reorganization of its military in Africa, the French plan to reinforce their base at Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s capital. The base will be used as an entry point onto the continent as well as a logistical support post.
France was decisively behind the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya during the Arab Spring uprisings against Muammar Gaddafi. France’sinterpretationof UN Resolution 1973, which imposed a no-fly zone over the country, was bolder than either the US’s or the UK’s position.
The strikes against Gaddafi ultimately led to his overthrow and subsequent execution at the hand’s of the Libyan rebels. Since then, Libya has faced a rocky course as two rival governments, and various Islamist militias, have battled for power in the country.
Concerned by the chaos and the flow of fighters and weapons from Libya into other parts of Africa, France has said that it is ready to strike militants crossing over the Libyan border.
Until France’s rebalancing of forces across Africa following its intervention in Mali, Djibouti was the sight of thelargest concentrationof French forces in Africa. From 1999 to 2001, Djiboutifoughtan insurgency that was eventually put down with French assistance.
Following the war, Djibouti became increasingly stable. France gave operations of Camp Lemonnier, a former Foreign Legion post, over to the government of Djibouti, which then leased it to the US in 2001.
France maintains over 1,500 troops in Djibouti as part of a security force. The French forces in Djibouti have taken part in operations in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Ivory Coast.