On 24 August former French colonel and current professor and political commentator, Michel Goya, posted the excerpted French-language article on his blogspot.com blog. Goya sought to exploit his own military experience and recollections of Mali’s civil war and instability in 2012 to interpret the uptick in violence in Mali that continues to the present. His main critique is that France often portrays its strategy as long-term and well-planned when, in fact, the counter-insurgency effort is hampered by short-term decision-making.

According to Goya, French operations in the Sahel often follow sudden demands for action from France’s president or pressure from the media or the United States. Goya suggests one of the political calculations of French involvement in the Sahel is its desire to be a regional influencer, which provides France international status. However, at the same time, this does not necessarily lead to results on the ground. Based on this analysis, Goya argues the time horizon for French strategies in the Sahel is often only one to three years.

Another factor presenting challenges for French strategy in Africa, according to Goya, is unpredictable international events and complex environments. Goya cites the example of Central African Republic where the plan was for a six-month intervention, but it lasted three years. He also points to other events that have disrupted French strategy, such as the Arab spring, spillover of conflicts from one country to another, including from Mali into Burkina Faso and Niger, pandemics, such as the coronavirus, and economic crises. Goya argues France should be more prepared for low probability, but high-impact events.

Toward the end of article, Goya returns to criticizing the politicization of French military activity in the Sahel, including arguing that hostage exchanges often serve electoral interests. At the same, Goya contends the jihadists whom France is facing are not psychopaths, but are part of political movements and comprise an “army of volunteers” and have local support. Further, they act where the state has defaulted.

Lastly, Goya compares France’s counter-insurgency efforts in the Sahel to the U.S. counter-insurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have lasted longer than originally anticipated. He further discusses difficulties of employing regional forces in military interventions and argues France is in a dilemma of being criticized sometimes for not doing enough and other times for doing too much.

We sometimes imagine that our foreign operations follow grand designs and well thought out plans with clear long-term strategic objectives. Nothing is further from the truth.

Source: “Quand t’es dans le désert… (When You are In the Desert…).” https://lavoiedelepee.blogspot.com, 24 August 2020. https://lavoiedelepee.blogspot.com/2020/08/quand-tes-dans-le-desert.html?m=1

We sometimes imagine that our foreign operations follow grand designs and well thought out plans with clear long-term strategic objectives. Nothing is further from the truth. In fact, we act, or still more often, react because the President decided alone that something must be done, and usually very quickly. There is often strong pressure conveyed by the media or a request from the United States, or much more rarely from the European Union.

As for the time horizon, it rarely exceeds a year, or two or three at most. Let us remember the Minister of Defense, Jean-Yves Le Drian, at the beginning of December 2013, announcing an engagement in the Central African Republic for six months, and then lambasting the “self-proclaimed experts” who pointed out that it was no doubt a too optimistic forecast. This operation, Sangaris, finally ended three years later.

Focused on current problems, we forget even more often that surrounding them, very important things can also happen, such as an economic crisis, the Arab Spring, the collapse of a neighboring state in our area of operation, some serious crisis in eastern Europe, a major terrorist attack on our soil, a pandemic, etc… there are many external things that in fact will change the local situation. It is true that we are rarely interested in low probability events even if they are possible major shocks.

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