French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, center, walks with Gen. Francisco Soriano, right, commander of the Sangaris Operation, and French Air Force General Antoine Noguier, left, military cabinet chief, during a Jan. 2 visit to the Mpoko French military camp in Bangui. (Miguel Medina / AFP)
BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC — France’s military mission in the Central African Republic will not suck in its troops in an expanding role, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian vowed Thursday during a visit to the restive country’s capital.
Le Drian predicted last month’s deployment of 1,600 French soldiers to the former French colony to help an African force there would prove as successful as France’s mission launched nearly a year ago in Mali, where an Islamist guerrilla advance was halted.
Experts at the time, he told some of the French troops in Bangui, had predicted: “‘In Mali, France is on a slippery slope’ — luckily for us, we didn’t listen to those experts. I say that for Mali and I say that also for Central Africa.”
Intervening in Africa “is also ensuring France’s security,” he said. “When there is a security vacuum, it’s an opportunity for all sorts of trafficking and an open door to all types of terrorism.”
France insists its UN-mandated mission to the Central African Republic is clearly defined and will not be open-ended.
However, efforts to persuade European partners to contribute soldiers to the mission have fallen short. Several countries are providing logistical support — the United States and Britain, for instance, supplying military transport aircraft — but are balking at putting boots on the ground.
The French deployment, which is focusing on disarming both the ex-rebel Seleka members and the Christian vigilantes, has lost two soldiers in one clash early December.
Analysts believe the French presence will have to be boosted given ongoing violence.
“Our soldiers have found themselves alone in a situation tougher than first thought. There will be no quick fix and our troops will probably be reinforced,” Francois Heisbourg, of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Studies, said last week in an op-ed for Le Monde newspaper.