#303 JUNE 201377
AFM: And over Mali, you were able to repeat this‘first-strike’ concept?
With the Mali operation we benefited froman effective decision-making chain from the Presidentdownwards. He said on January 10 that we had to inter-vene in Mali – and just 12 hours later the initial strikeshappened, with very good effect. A clear signal thatFrance has the ability to react worldwide. Of course,it had been anticipated by the presidential NationalIntelligence Council that we would have to respond[once the UN Secuity Council resolution was passed],such was the evolving situation in Mali highlighted byintelligence gathered over the previous two weeks.
AFM:This suggests that French forces werealready well placed around Mali and ‘omnipres-ent’ in the region?
Well, ‘omnipresent’ is maybe not true. First,the region is a very large theatre of operations, but alsoa very empty one with just a few traffic arteries andpopulation centres. Second, the events in Mali, theadvance of the Islamists from north to south last year,were obvious and well documented – you neededno intel to see that. In late 2012 a combined air man-agement centre, JFACC [Joint Force Air ComponentCommand], was built at N'Djamena in Chad where theMirage 2000Ds and F1Cs were deployed, so there wasa command and control [C2] capability available for anentire area of operations, not just Mali. The potentialtheatre was a triangle from N'Djamena to the Maliancapital, Bamako, west to Dakar in Senegal and 1,000kmsouth to the port of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. So wewere not ‘omnipresent’, but well placed.
AFM:What else was in theatre ahead of theFrench ‘first entry’?
It’s true we had pre-positioned forcesplaced quite discretely. Because of a problem southof Chad [at the same time, a rebel coup in the CentralAfrican Republic was threatening French citizens]these forces not only included the fighters but alsorefuelling assets and some very special forces. ForISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance],some maritime patrol Atlantique aircraft were basedat Dakar and some months earlier a few Harfang UASs[unmanned aerial systems] and their datalink infra-structure were placed at Niamey in Niger. Also, airliftassets were present at Abidjan in the Ivory Coast.All this was planned and coordinated by the CAOC[combined air operations centre] near Lyon and com-manded by 20 personnel in the JFACC at N'Djamena,who did all the air tasking work. That was almost all inplace when Mali began to ‘turn hot’.
AFM:Were special forces active in the area?
(grinning): Well, they were here and there…As I said, ‘very’ special forces – not to elaborate fur-ther. We developed a concept of how to use them inAfghanistan and adopted this for Africa. It workedquite well. They had been stationed at Ouagadougouin Burkina Faso for six months, including an air supportelement of armed Gazelle helicopters from the 4thRegiment. As you may know, we have French hostagesfrom Niger in the hands of Islamists now in the Adrardes Ifoghas Mountains on the border with Algeria. Ourelite forces did a lot of ‘travelling’ in the region look-ing for them, so they were not there because of Mali.Hostages could be sold – they’re like commercial goodswithin these criminal structures. It’s much more abouttransnational crime than about religious war.
AFM:However, all those forces knew the situa-tion as the Islamists’ Toyota pick-up trucks moved into central Mali?
Yes. Thanks to the multi-layer ISR picture,we followed the moves of the two pick-up convoys,each with about 150 vehicles and about 600 Islamistwarriors from AQIM [Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb],
and MUJAO [Movement for Oneness andJihad in West Africa]. One drove the weak Malian Armyout of Konna and attempted to seize Mopti, the impor-tant river harbour. The other was heading west fromDibali towards the capital, Bamako, where there were12,000 Westerners, among them 6,000 French citizens. This motivated our President to act. Also a factor wasthat Mali could become a Sharia state of terror, withgrim consequences for the entire region. Those werethe threats which came up at our National SecurityCouncil on January 10, which led to the President’s deci-sion to stop the convoys. Their leaders had expected toonly meet the weak Malian army, not French specialforces and guided weapons. That was highly asymmet-ric to them – and to their disadvantage.
AFM:Then there were the first air strikes. How do you see them today?
They were well executed, I think. The firstmissions happened in the night of January 11, justunder 24 hours after the decision was taken in Paris. The first shot in anger was fired by Gazelle helicoptersof the special forces. Unfortunately, a pilot was hit anddied after conducting an emergency landing nearMopti. As the western column was too distant for thehelicopters, Mirage 2000Ds from N'Djamena werecalled into action. In what was a five-hour missionwith two refuelling sessions near the Mali/Niger bor-der, each dropped two smart munitions against theconvoy. A very good operation – we killed many fight-ers. The rest fled northwards immediately, shocked byprecise 500-pounders out of nowhere in the night.
For the ﬁrst time, Atlantique ATL-2s from Dakar dropped GBU-12 bombs from their weapons bays. Not yet able to laser-designate on their own,the ﬁnal phase guidance of released munitionswas conducted by Harfang UAVs via datalink. According to French sources, this combinationwas highly eective against ﬁxed targets in thenorthern Ifoghas Mountains at the end of March.