Answering the question “are we at war ?” posed during the traditional New Year meeting with members of the French Association of Defence Journalists (AJD) a few days ago, Field Marshal Pierre de Villiers, chief of staff of the French armed forces, answered: “Formally, no, because we are asking the French people to return to café terraces. But in fact for us, the military, without a doubt, yes. What we are waging daily in the Levant and the Sahel, is, indeed a war.”
He listed three elements to back his statement:
First: “We have an enemy…Daesh [whose] strategy is a radical Islamic strategy to expand and subvert.” He recalled that “the means they use… cyber-attacks, improvised explosive devices, snipers, suicide attacks… are all the more dangerous because they are cheap, easily accessible and combine well with the jihadists ideal of death and fanaticism.” He also underlined “the extremism” of Daesh which “seeks the rupture by an inflation of terror. For that it relies on the jihadists’ contempt of death. Candidates for martyrdom are often young people with no hope, who consider that their lives have failed but want to make a success of their death.” And the general reminded his audience that these “exactions of unspeakable cruelty are committed in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya… less than a four hour flight from Paris.”
Secondly: “Acts of war have been committed on our territory.” The general noted “that the way they proceed, the weapons used, are identical to what we observe and confront in Afghanistan, in Mali, in Iraq… This cruel parallelism reveals the transnational character of these threats.. the theatres of war are no longer distant. They are on our doorstep, on the inside, even, of our borders. In the space of just a few weeks four continents out of five have suffered terrorist attacks: San Bernardino on the 2nd December, Istanbul on the 12th January, Jakarta on the 14th, Ouagadougou on the 15th. We are in a globalised war.”
And finally, the third element: “Abroad, whether in the Sahel or in the Levant, our army is obviously waging war,” he said. And he recounted how on an air-base in Jordan on Christmas Eve he had spoken with the pilots and that he had “seen and heard their responsible determination and the consciousness they had that they were facing death: the one that one gives and the one that one risks. They were leaving for several hours to fly above the territory controlled by Daesh; whilst they measured the capital importance of their mission, they had in mind the images of the execution of the Jordanian pilot. They destroyed their objective before using their bombs to back the Iraqi troops moving forward on the ground.” And he added soberly: “I am telling you, we have heroes, who, in the anonymity of their missions make war and take unbelievable risks to hit the terrorists before they come to us.”
To find out how the chief of staff thinks this war can be won, return tomorrow!