PARIS — French troops’ dependence on U.S. forces in the African theater “is not healthy” and will undermine the European country’s pursuit to act autonomously there, according to the author of France’s Strategic Review of Defence and National Security.
“They are happy to give leadership to France,” Arnaud Danjean told a defense journalists association on Nov. 8, referring to the relatively light U.S. deployment of some 800 troops in Niger.
But “we would do less well without them in the Sahel,” he said. “That poses a problem.
“The autonomous control of appreciation of a crisis is absolutely fundamental to us.”
The death of four U.S. troops in an ambush by Islamic militants in Niger last month reflects the rising threat in the sub-Saharan Sahel region. French Army helicopters helped evacuate wounded U.S. troops from the combat zone.
France relies heavily on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the theater. Further effort could be made in boosting the ISR capabilities, which might be expensive but would not overly strain the budget, Danjean said.
For the time being, ties with U.S. forces in intelligence gathering and operations are strong, he said. “We can’t work without the other.”
Apart from too great a dependence, the Danjean said a key concern is the “attention to flattery.”
There is risk Paris may see itself as Washington’s closest ally because of close operational ties, and would therefore feel obliged to meet an American request for intervention, even if that request were to undermine French interests, he said.
“You have to just say: ‘No,’ ” he said. The risk was a desire to show France as a “good ally” and feel highly flattered in being asked.
“We have to hold onto a capability to form an autonomous appreciation of a situation,” he said.
U.S. ground forces are relatively light in Africa when compared to the 3,500-4,000 French troops in the Barkhane operation deployed across five African partner nations.
In Niger, a station of the paramilitary gendarmes at Ayorou, on the border with Mali, came under attack Oct. 21, the joint chief of staff said in a weekly briefing. French and Nigerien authorities responded with Nigerien Gazelle helicopters, French Mirage 2000 fighter jets and a Tiger attack helicopter to pursue the attackers. The Niger Gazelles spotted the fleeing fighters on a pickup truck, which was destroyed by the Tiger.
The French military is concerned that once its forces intervene in a foreign mission, there will be a commitment on the ground of 10-15 years. There is a call for a global approach with greater focus on diplomatic, economic and civil reconstruction rather than a military intervention, which could turn into a quagmire, wearing down troops and equipment.
France published the strategic review last month, which President Emmanuel Macron had asked to be swiftly drafted to help the government draw up its multiyear military budget law for 2019-2025.
Danjean served in the DGSE foreign intelligence service before being elected as a member of the European Parliament, where he is chairman of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence.