Yesterday, Monday April 22nd, 2013, the French Parliament voted to extend the French military mission in Mali, Operation Serval. Under Article 35 of the French Constitution, the government is required to submit requests to extend military interventions beyond four months to the Parliament, which then votes on the request. The Senate voted in favor 326 to 0 and the National Assembly, 342 to 0.
As part of the debate in the Senate, a report, dated April 16th, prepared by Jean-Pierre Chevenement and Gérard Larcher on behalf of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was introduced into the record. The 135-page report (which is only available in French as far as I can tell) argues that a continued French military presence in Mali is necessary for the time being, based on a number of concerns:
- The possibility of the political process becoming entrenched;
- The risk that there will be no true reconciliation process set up, which will further hinder the political process;
- The need of the Malian state for substantive international help for reconstruction;
- The need for the EU to continue addressing structural challenges in the Sahel region: economic under-development, population growth, drug trafficking, especially in cocaine, governance problems, etc.;
- The ability of MISMA and any future UN peacekeeping mission to effectively fulfill their mandate, especially in a climate of continuing insecurity; and
- The growth of terrorism in the region.
There’s quite a bit more in the report that is very interesting for those interested in French military policy in Africa – including a rather extensive discussion of how Serval fits in to France’s overall strategy, such as RECAMP and other initiatives. While fully analyzing the report is outside of the scope of this post (although I may take another look at a later date … ), I think the main conclusion that can be drawn from it is that the French government is firmly supporting the Serval mission until the goals are deemed to have been achieved, and I think we can expect the French government to stick to this as long as it feels the need to.
Moving away from the report, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also stressed the successes of Serval so far (full speech available here):
L’opération Serval, c’est aussi, c’est bien sûr une réussite militaire. La reconquête du territoire malien conduite par nos troupes, alliées aux forces armées maliennes et aux soldats tchadiens et nigérians, a été remarquablement menée. Comment ne pas exprimer notre admiration devant les opérations menées dans l’Adrar des Ifoghas, comme dans les régions de Tombouctou et de Gao ? Les combats y ont été souvent très difficiles. La quantité et la dangerosité des armes et des matériels trouvés et détruits montrent à quel point nous avions affaire à un ennemi organisé et déterminé. Aujourd’hui, sa capacité à reconstituer une menace importante est très significativement réduite. Mais notre objectif désormais, c’est d’en empêcher toute reconstitution.
In English (my translation):
Operation Serval is also a military success. The recovery of the Malian territory by our troops, allied with the Malian armed forces and with Chadian and Nigerian soldiers, was remarkably well conducted. How can we not express our admiration in front of the operations conducted in the Adrar des Ifoghas, as well as the regions of Timbuktu and Gao? The battles have often been very difficult. The quantity of and threat posed by the arms and other materials found and destroyed demonstrates the extent to which we have been faced with an organized and determined enemy. Today, the enemy’s capacity to rebuild an important threat has been significantly reduced. But our objective now, is to stop any rebuilding.
During the debate in the Senate, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stated that the three concrete objectives of the French military intervention moving forward were to 1) keep the pressure on terrorist groups; 2) support MINUSMA (the UN peacekeeping mission meant to replace MISMA in July); and 3) rebuild the Malian military.
That being said, 500 troops have already been demobilized, out of a total of 4,500. Le Drian confirmed that France would stick to the schedule, with troops being reduced under 4,000 by the end of April, to 2,000 in July and to 1,000 by the end of the year.
The decision to extend Serval is being taken in a security context which is far from certain. Reports have come in in the past few days that rebels have taken control over Ber in the north of the country. An April 11th report by the International Crisis Group (the full report is only available in French; only the executive summary is available in English) comprehensively summarizes the remaining issues in Mali.
What all this means is that we are still very far from a “Mission Accomplished” photo-op in Mali.