About two months ago, the French Defense Minister had anounced that French troops would be back home within a couple of weeks, three or maybe four, and when they took three major cities by storm he seemed to be absolutely right. Yet, until two, threes weeks ago they had been fighting nobody, really…the “islamist terrorists” had vanished into the desert. And so the French went after them and then…well, then… we don’t really know. French and international media seem to have lost their interest after the big party in Timbuktu and instead of having daily fat headlines on missiles, terrorist nests and shoot-outs there is only an occasional short note somewhere. Meanwhile, the cost of the operation has doubled from the initial 50 Million Euro to 100 Million — a “flash éco” news in the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, that’s all.
Le Drian justifies this pretty expense by pointing out that the French troops are now finally doing what they were sent in for: killing islamists. He doesn’t know how many they are killing but he reassures everyone that they are doing their job properly as they kill several every day. If they really do so and under what circumstances nobody acutally knows, however. Concrete information is confused and contradictory: suicide bombings in towns that had been “cleared” of terrorists, mountain battles with or without success and casualties…. Various sources juggle numbers of islamist casualties ranging from 15 to 20 in a recent shoot-out to hundreds. But who cares actually when the important thing is that “our” boys kills terrorists without being killed. It’s the two French soldiers (legionnaires, more precisely) being killed that make the headlines, of course.
What is relatively well known is the number of displaced and refugees: 6,500 from the North since the French marched in and the fighting began; 240,000 since the Northern insurgency began a bit more than a year ago. But they don’t make the headlines either. After all, the French did not march in heroically to be associated with ragged homeless IDPs and refugees…
The French intervention is far from being the neat and simple march-through they had anounced back in January; it was never really declared a humanitarian intervention which, in the end, is good as it dispenses the government from trying to explain why it is creating more violence, misery and havoc than there was before. But then, there has never been a declared goal anyway except to kill terrorists and this, at least, the French are now doing! But as those islamists don’t want to be so easily killed, it seems that the French are there to stay and continue their cat-and-mouse game. And as this war has moved out of the news, hence the public consciousness, just as the Afghanistan and Iraq intervention have, it can continue for a loooong time. The hopes of a clear victory and an easy little army work out are already shattered and with it any potential homegrown political solution.