It is perfectly feasible that in future France’s special forces will work hand-in-hand with conventional forces. That, at least, is what General Jean-Pierre Bosser, chief of staff of the French Army, announced at a symposium held last week at the Ecole Militaire (War College) in Paris. “I’m pushing for a combination special forces/conventional forces in the Sahelo-Saharan Band,” he revealed.
Noting that since the terrorist attacks in Paris on 7 January and 13 November 2015 “the complexity [of the situation in the Middle East] has spread to our country, on our national territory,” he told the full auditorium that “the army has embraced all of this complexity” and that “therefore, on our national territory, the army is fully legitimate.”
Indeed, France’s 2013 White Paper on defence and security details that the protection of the national territory and the guarantee of the continuity of the essential functions of the Nation are the first strategic priorities of France. In this framework, therefore, the leading mission of the armed forces is to ensure the protection of the Nation from all threats of a military nature.
As underscored by the commander of the Headquarters of the Rapid Reaction Corps – France, Lt-General Eric Margail, France has emerged from the “parenthesis of the Cold War” during which “one or two generations” of soldiers were trained on the basis of fighting “between armed forces, in the respect of reasonably clear rules.” Today, he said “the hybrid enemy does not fit” this framework “because he breaks the rules” and it has become very difficult to know either who the fighter is or where he is. The shop-keeper of the morning can become that afternoon’s combatant. The enemy “does not follow the same rules as us,” he regretted. His comments were supported by Major General François-Xavier de Woillemont, deputy to the deputy head of the French armed forces, who said the newly found enemy has an “ideology comparable to that of the nazis.” The fact that he “[wants] our destruction” and that there is “no negotiation possible” conditions “our strategy” he said.
The challenges, then, for a conventional army are not only tactical and technical but also legal. Margail offered a first solution: “We have to know everything, understand everything, and right now.” This will be made easier by the creation this summer of the Army Intelligence Centre. Margail also suggested that instead of training based on a few major exercises “we ought to develop more, but lighter, training exercises.”
Major General Bernard Barrera, deputy head of planning and programming at Army Staff, announced that from this summer there would be wider use of human intelligence, more electromagnetic sensors and more remotely piloted air systems. Nevertheless, de Woillemont warned the audience that patience was needed: “We will win this war but it will take time” and to do so it will be necessary to “conserve or retake the initiative; last out, hold out, have foresight; win the peace afterwards.”
Pleased with the “resurgence of strength of the Army,” the chief of staff announced that during the Eurosatory show in Paris between 13-17 June “an international decompartmentalisation” would be unveiled. No, we don’t know what that means either and were told we’d have to wait for the official announcement!