THE FRENCH IN MALI—CAN THEY BE SUCCESSFUL?
Rarely a week goes by without my either reading or hearing some disparaging comment about the French and their fighting abilities. Why the U.S. media and many Americans persist with such petty behavior defeats me. The United States of America might well not have come into being without French help, and their sacrifices in both World War I and II were staggering.
Yes, they did surrender quite quickly in WW II, but you have to put that into the context of their appalling losses only two decades previously. They didn’t want a repeat of that slaughter. For all that, the Free French soon rallied and fought with distinction in both North Africa and subsequently in Europe, and the French Resistance accepted major casualties when they helped to drive out the Germans.
I first ran into the French Army in 1964—in Corsica—in the form of the French Foreign Legion – and a tougher, more disciplined bunch of soldiers you would be hard to find. Also, they were impressively stylish. Their berets were worn just so (I was with paratroops), their camouflage uniforms looked tailored, and their bearing was impeccable. Subsequently, the Legion turned into France’s Ready Reaction Force and became quite high tech—though the 2nd REP continued to jump out of perfectly good aircraft.
Given my ongoing interest in the Legion, I have watched their attempts to drive Islamic extremists out of Mali with only 4,000 French troops with interest. So far they have been remarkably successful given the sheer scale of Northern Mali. Just look at the size of the territory the French are trying to subdue—and wonder.
Will they succeed? You know they probably will. They excel at this kind of fast-paced, mobile, warfare.
By the way, one branch of my family, the Lentaignes, came from France—specifically from Calvados, Normandy. The full family name is Lentaigne de Logivieres and they were aristocrats who ran foul of the French Revolution and the guillotine. I’m a descendant of ‘the one who got away’—reportedly by making love to the jailer's daughter who lowered him to freedom in a laundry basket. His siblings were executed. After that close shave, he fled to Ireland. And the rest of the story is for another time.