Sentinelle changes tack

While yet another French soldier on patrol with the Sentinelle Operation was attacked this morning in central Paris, (fortunately he was uninjured), the new modus operandi of Sentinelle presented yesterday by the Minister of the Armed Forces and the Minister of the Interior should make the soldiers on patrol less liable to this type of aggression.

Soldiers on patrol with the Sentinelle Operation at the foot of the Eiffel Tower


We must be more unpredictable, more discreet, more manoeuvrable (…) so as not to allow the aggressor to have access to a certain amount of information that can make the operation less efficient and can unnecessarily expose the forces involved,” said Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces yesterday.

Although the number of soldiers mobilised will remain at its current level of 7,000, coupled with a “reserve” of 3,000 others ready to intervene in case of need, Parly explained that the operation should be made “more efficient, more reactive, more unpredictable. We will determine, depending on the areas and circumstances, the right level of forces to be deployed in addition to the police and gendarmes. We will take the initiative over the enemy by strengthening our deterrent posture with more random patrols.

The new approach envisages three levels, with a “permanent set-up” for securing sensitive and tourist sites, a “planned, reinforced level” to protect occasional events and a “strategic reserve” of 3,000 soldiers. This new organisation is accompanied by renewed governance and enhanced coordination between the two ministries.

The numbers of personnel deployed for the first two levels will be decided according to need, contrary to what the minister of the interior, Gérard Collomb, said last month when he announced that there would probably be “3,500 in defined positions and 3,500 in more flexible positions so as to guarantee, for example, the Braderie de Lille” [Europe’s biggest flea market held the first weekend of September in the eponymous northern French city]. Parly said yesterday that “we will adapt the numbers along the principle of a lightning rod, deploying where the lightning is likely to hit rather than to say to our personnel wait here, where it might just fall someday’.”

Last July, just after President Emmanuel Macron had announced a “thorough” review of Sentinelle, the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Jean-Pierre Bosser, said at a hearing before the National Assembly’s Defence Committee, that it was necessary to mobilise at least 9,000 men for Sentinelle, including 3,000 “at key points in Paris”, 3,000 “in reserve as a back-up in case of a hard knock anywhere in France” and 3,000 to work on crisis scenarios with the internal security forces.

What we want is to improve so that we are more efficient,” Parly explained yesterday on Radio Europe 1. “It’s about making the Operation more flexible, more mobile, less predictable. We must not allow Sentinelle to be forseeable,” she continued. And so “there will be random missions that have been planned but which neither elected officials nor the population at large will know about.” And neither, hopefully, will potential aggressors.