French Forces' Performance in Libyan Campaign Wins U.S. Military Respect (8/29)     Print Email

The NATO-led operation in Libya has raised esteem for the French military and their capabilities among their American counterparts, according to this New York Times article reporting how French behavior in the Libyan operation has gained respect in the Pentagon.

French forces (especially the special forces that operate clandestinely, especially in situations where it is politically inconvenient for Paris to acknowledge their mission) have always been appreciated on the battlefields where they have fought alongside American contingents -- for example, in the first war against Iraq and currently in the mountains of Afghanistan. And the French command has remained inclined to cooperate with the U.S., including in NATO, even in periods when French politicians sometimes seemed to drag their feet or actively opposed U.S. operations (for example, in Iraq in 2003). Now the lead role of French (and British) airpower in Libya, even with U.S. intellitgence help and some resupply, has shown the French in a more impressive light, leading the assault (along with Britain). For the first time, Washington insisted on taking a back seat in this political and military engagement pushed through by European pressure on NATO. Due to the strict limitations on the use of force imposed by Congress, the US flew reconnaissance and refueling missions, while the British, the French, and the Dutch participated in combat sorties.


President Nicolas Sarkozy has also broken with the knee-jerk anti-Americanism often exhibited in public by his predecessors.That political shift has now gained credibility with the French combat record and determination in Libya.  Since the outbreak of the NATO-led offensive, the French air force has flown some 4,500 manned combat sorties, including 2,700 bombing runs that dropped ordnance instead of simply doing reconnaissance. (The U.S. has shunned manned combat sorties, relying instead on unmanned drones as part of the White House argument that drone strikes do not constitute "hostilities" in the terms of legal requirements for the President to consult with Congress). Paris and London have announced that their special forces were in action on the ground in Libya helping anti-Qaddafi rebels, a subject on which Washington has been reluctant to discuss with regard to any American "special ops" in Libya. This new recognition of French prowess comes not long after warnings from Robert Gates, until recently secretary of defense, that NATO’s future was “dim if not dismal” unless Europeans shoulder a bigger share of the alliance's defense burden. Germany has shunned the combat, but is theoretically prepared to help with the nation-building that will be necessary now in Libya. France and Britain have shown their mettle, but both countries have heard warnings from their military commanders that their forces risk being over-stretched by missions such as Libya – as documented in a June European Affairs article – amid budget cuts for their manpower and arsenals.


--By European Affairs