In January, France began military operations to wrest northern Mali from the control of Islamist militants and prevent them from taking over the rest of the country. In an email interview, Rachel Utley, an expert on French defense and security policies at the University of Leeds, discussed France’s broader military posture in the Sahel region of North Africa.
WPR: What are France's overall military capabilities in the Sahel, and where are its regional bases?
Rachel Utley: France maintains a long-standing military presence in Africa, as important for its political value -- the promotion of French presence and influence -- as for its practical benefits of force projection and upholding certain defense agreements. Despite a reorganization under former President Nicolas Sarkozy, pre-positioned French forces remain in Djibouti (around 1,900 personnel), Gabon (900) and Senegal (350), with residual operational deployments in Chad (around 950 personnel), the Central African Republic (450) and Côte d’Ivoire (450). Capabilities in Chad, and slightly further afield in Côte d’Ivoire, are especially relevant in the current conflict. France has drawn on resources in Chad and Côte d’Ivoire, including the Mirage 2000D and Rafale fighters, for Operation Serval in Mali, with additional troops and equipment arriving from metropolitan France. In the first 10 days of operations France deployed around 2,150 troops alongside the Malian army, and the number has continued to rise, supported by troops from Nigeria, Niger, Togo and Benin, which provided around 850 in the first 10 days -- also rising.