A French soldier waves through traffic as he mans a roadblock in the Miskine neighborhood of Bangui, Central African Republic, Jan. 6, 2014.
January 14, 2014
PARIS — France marks the one year anniversary this month of its military offensive in Mali by further drawing down its forces, following a relatively swift and clear cut intervention. But fresh violence this week in the Central African Republic (CAR), where another French operation enters its second month, underscores the challenges ahead.
It is not quite “mission accomplished,” but French President Francois Hollande says most of France’s intervention in Mali is over.
Speaking earlier this month, Hollande said only 1,600 French forces will remain in the West African country as of mid-February, compared to about 2,500 today. There will be a further drawdown to about 1,000 men. That is the number he says is needed to deal with future threats.
But France’s other operation in the Central African Republic is starkly different – although Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has vowed it will be short. There, 1,600 French troops are helping to disarm fighters and restore stability. But despite the departure of Central African Republic President Michel Djotodia and plans for a new transitional government, it is proving to be a messy job.
And a very unpopular one – at least back home. A new poll by the French Institute of Public Opinion indicates six-out-of-10 French are against the intervention in CAR.
Even at the start, says IFOP’s director of public opinion studies, Jerome Fourquet, only half of those surveyed supported Operation Sangaris.
Fourquet says in France, like in the United States, there’s usually a sort of ‘rally around the flag’ effect – a sense of patriotism and support for troops at the start of an operation. But he says the French were lukewarm about intervening in CAR from the beginning.[Read more]