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French colonel: France better off alone in Mali

  • French forces: Mali is France's seventh large-scale campaign in Africa since 1968 (Photo: defense.gouv.fr)

A senior French military officer has said France is better off without Nato or EU help to "reconquer" north Mali.

Colonel Michel Goya, a serving officer and an expert at the Institut de Recherche Strategique de l'Ecole Militaire in Paris, told EUobserver in an interview on Thursday (24 January): "We have more freedom of action if we do it alone than if we go through Nato procedures. It would be even worse at EU level. If we do it alone, it's more efficient in military terms."

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He said Nato operations run into problems because some countries take a back seat.

"In Afghanistan, you have some countries who really fight and others who do very little. For example, the German contingent and the Italian contingent don't have a combat role. There are many countries who do not want to fight, so working in the coalition is very tough," he noted.

"In Libya, we were less efficient because we used Nato command structures ... If you have to react quickly to events, it's better to do it at a national or bi-national level," he said.

He was even more critical of EU "battlegroups."

France, Germany and Poland on 1 January activated the Weimar Battlegroup - a joint force of 1,700 men which can, on paper, be sent to a hotspot five to 10 days after the decision is made.

"The EU doesn't know how to wage war. It's not prepared to launch military operations of this type [Mali]," Goya said.

"Battlegroups are fine if there is no combat. If we had to fight, we would probably see very few Germans and Poles in the field," he added.

France, a former colonial power in west Africa, attacked jihadist fighters in north Mali seven days ago in order to stop them from taking Bamako.

It is the seventh large scale French operation in Africa since 1968.

It currently has around 2,400 soldiers in Mali.

Goya said this will go up to 6,000, of which 3,000 will be in action at any given time.

It is also co-ordinating the deployment of a joint African force - from Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Togo, among other countries - as well as the activities of the Malian army.

Some EU member states have given "logistical support," such as transport planes.

EU countries are also due to send 500-or-so soldiers in February to help train African troops.

Goya said there is a clear command structure.

General Didier Castres, based in Paris, is in overall command of all the activities.

Another French general, Bernard Barrera, based in Bamako, is in charge of operations on the ground.

Goya said France does not need anybody's help to "reconquer" north Malian towns from the jihadist groups.

But he said French soldiers should pull back when this is done and let African soldiers - especially desert specialists from Chad - take the lead in the long-term campaign to drive jihadists out of the region's vast deserts.

"France has to know when to stop and what to be content with in order to win," Goya noted.

"If we stay and fight in the desert then we will probably suffer losses and we will risk losing public support in France ... We will also risk the Afghanistan phenomenon of being seen as a foreign occupation force, provoking anti-French Malian nationalism," he added.

He said the EU training force will come in useful in the African-led phase of the campaign.

He also said Europe will need to donate or sell armoured vehicles and combat helicopters to the African soldiers.

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