Mali: interview given by Jean-Yves Le Drian

Excerpts from the interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian,
Minister of Defense, to France Inter.

Paris, January 31st, 2013


Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is our guest this morning on Inter. Thirty-five hundred French soldiers are currently deployed in Mali, right? With still more in the days to come?

The intervention, speed, and organization of the French soldiers have been outstanding. They’ve been very professional and exhibited great cool-headedness. I want to pay tribute to them, and I’m sure the whole nation shares my view. Without their swiftness, the Malian state would no longer exist and there would be a terrorist sanctuary allowing all the world’s jihadists to organize strikes against us in France and in Europe. We had to respond quickly, and the President had the instinct and courage to take this decision. The French armed forces responded very quickly.

Will the deployment continue? Will reinforcements arrive? Will the number surpass 4,000?

There are now 3,500 troops. I can’t give you a definitive number because the military situation is evolving, but we’re going to stick with that size, more or less.

We’ve understood this isn’t the time for disengagement.

It’s not the time for disengagement, but our purpose isn’t to remain there either.


Our purpose is to fulfill our objective, that is, to block the advance of jihadist groups and allow Mali to regain its sovereignty; that’s what’s happening. After that, we are handing the job over to the African forces that are being established.

Although for the time being, there are fewer of them in Mali than there are French forces.

Not that much fewer, you know. Not that much.

Two thousand something?

No, 3,000. There are 3,000.


Fewer, yes, but the force has only just been established. We were told it would take three, four, six months for the African forces to get organized and established. We were told: “September at the earliest.” But they are there. There are Chadians, Nigeriens, Burkinabes, Togolese, Beninese, Ivorians, Senegalese… in short, they are there! Partly out of solidarity, but also because it’s a matter of their own security. The Africans deemed it important for their own security; that they had to respond unanimously to the mission they were entrusted with by the UN. (…)

How much is Operation Serval costing the government? A million, two million euros a day?

It’s a little too early to say, because it has been stepped up. You know that each year, the government budget, the military budget has an item called OPEX, which amounts to 630 million euros and allows for the commitment of troops in circumstances such as these. Right now, we could say that the amount spent is somewhere around 50 million euros, and has gone mostly to logistics.

Fifty million for three weeks.

More or less. But in the next few days, I’ll be referring the matter to the National Assembly’s finance committee, which is responsible for all that, and I will provide them with very complete information on the subject. […]

There will be transparency with respect to the numbers, in any case.

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Is preventing journalists from traveling to the front for security reasons, or is it to better control the images and narrative of the war? There have been cases in which journalists were prevented from going.

War is not a game of images. There are major security issues that we must respect, but we don’t have anything to hide.

The major question I’m asking myself is, is there a way to stop the transport of equipment to these terrorists? Because they have to eat. […] Of course, there are the weapons, there’s a lot of talk about the Libyan weapons but how are these people being supplied? Can we stop them?

That’s a good tactical question; the question of supplying not just equipment, not just food but fuel in particular. Because with these very larges spaces, having fuel is the minimum requirement for being able to carry out these actions. The interventions, in particular by the French air force, targeted, among other things, the fuel tanks in order to prevent the terrorists from getting future supplies. Now that Algeria in particular, and also Mauritania and Niger, have ordered their borders to be closed and are ensuring the security of these borders, the terrorists will have major supply issues and they know it. That’s one reason why they have scattered and withdrawn because they no longer have any means to carry out their actions. It’s the same thing for the weapons that the terrorists have, but it’s true that some of these weapons that the terrorists have came from the arms trade as a result of the war in Libya among other things, and also the global black market in arms. That’s a reality. Today, first of all we’ve destroyed a lot of the “pick-up trucks,” which are in fact armored vehicles, to put it clearly. […] It will be difficult for them to rebuild this capacity. Transporting weapons will however be much more difficult for these groups since the strikes that we carried out on most of their sites.

Minister, the question of time is very important. Together with President Hollande, you present very ambitious goals to us: reestablishing Mali’s territorial integrity but also ousting the terrorists, rebuilding an army, ensuring that the country’s democratic institutions are restored. In concrete terms, that means that we’ll be there for years in order to help Mali.

No, no, no! First, we said we were contributing to the restoration of Mali’s sovereignty and integrity. I was very surprised that, after two days, some commentators—not you—some certainly uninformed commentators were saying, “It’s the beginning of a quagmire.” After two days!

It’s become a media classic.

“It’s going to be like Afghanistan after 11 years.” Then after two days, people started saying, “But they took risks, we’re going to get sucked in.” Well, there’s still no quagmire, and in fact those same commentators no longer dare say there is, because the speed and effectiveness with which French forces intervened deserves our respect and shows there’s a real determination to help that country regain its freedom. What will take time is reconstituting the Malian army, but Europe is taking care of that with trainers from all the various countries, who will arrive in Bamako in 10 days’ time. Their objective will be to help the Malian army get organized because, in a state governed by the rule of law, which must be restored in Mali, the army is one of the major institutional elements, and it must be reconstituted. As far as we’re concerned, as soon as the African force known as AFISMA is in place and has begun to deploy, we will withdraw. It isn’t the mission of the operational French forces to remain in Mali. It is their mission to restore territorial integrity and prevent the establishment of a terrorist sanctuary. Mali’s sovereignty is France’s own security. And we will contribute to the training of the Malian army, as a French general is responsible for that. The African force will be move in, is moving in and will take over in accordance—it’s too easily forgotten—with the approach and resolutions of the UN, which were unanimously adopted by the international community.

Last modified on 04/02/2013

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