Leadership: The French Show The Americans How It Is Done


November 23, 2014:   The U.S. Army is carefully studying the recent (and ongoing) French Army operation in Mali. Starting in January 2013 the French sent in only 4,000 troops and relied on another 7,000 African peacekeepers and a few local tribal allies to quickly defeat several thousand Islamic terrorists in northern Mali. Like the United States the French used professional soldiers. In Mali it was a combination of regular infantry and special operations troops. The American noted that the French were even more quick and flexible in reorganizing their troops for different missions. Initially operations were against large groups of armed men, but within weeks that turned into search and pursuit of smaller groups. The French quickly reorganized and adopted different tactics. Another thing the French did was rely on vehicles that were less well armored and less complex than those used by the Americans. The French traded speed and less need for support troops for less protection. That did not result in a lot more casualties. The Mali peacekeeping force, suffered (in nearly two years of operations) a death rate of 240 per 100,000 per year (a standard measure of such things.) That’s higher than the 2013 rate (200) in Afghanistan for foreign troops. That was down from 587 in 2010, which was about what it was during the peak years in Iraq (2004-7).

The action in Mali is less intense than in Afghanistan or pre-2011 Iraq and total casualties since mid-2013 are only about 125 dead and wounded. The casualties have been higher in the late 2014 as Islamic terrorists from Mali settle into bases in southern Libya and are now regularly moving south to carry out operations in northern Mali. All this is possible because Libya is undergoing a civil war, mainly up north along the coast and no one bothers with Islamic terrorists who only kill across the border in Mali. There is a similar problem in Afghanistan with Islamic terrorists operations from several sanctuary areas in neighboring Pakistan and Iran.

Nevertheless the French operations have gone on for two years and been remarkably successful at much less monetary cost and human cost than similar American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The French had some unique advantages. For one thing they were operating in a former colony which they have remained involved with economically and culturally. That means there were a lot of people there who spoke French and were favorably disposed towards the French. The U.S. has somewhat similar advantages with their Special Forces but American senior commanders don’t take advantage of this as well as their French counterparts. That has changed somewhat since 2001 as senior U.S. Army commanders saw up close how useful the language and cultural skills of the Special Forces could be. But American commanders still tend to avoid using Special Forces as intended while the French embrace this advantage.

The French also used smart bombs, UAVs and electronic monitoring of enemy communications, all of them things the Americans pioneered. What the Americans are learning is that there’s always a better way to do some of what you are doing and Mali was proof.



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