The visiting French defense minister has warned of what he called "risks of weakness" across the African continent, as demonstrated in "failed states" that have become "a haven for terrorist groups.
" Speaking during a visit here, on Friday, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jean-Yves Le Drian reflected on the "success" of last year's French military intervention in Mali.
France desires to see the international community come to the aid of the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) - which has seen thousands of deaths since a coup in March - in order for elections to take place within a year's time, he said, "Africa is a priority zone for us, the zone of all dangers right now," said Le Drian. "France has decided to reorganize its posture in Africa in order to have preventive actions so that we can make sure the security of the entire zone is lasting." "If we had not intervened on January 11 last year, Mali would be in chaos," he added. "The C.A.R. is now in total disarray, the administration has totally disappeared, resources have been looted, there is a total political vacuum." That vacuum, he stressed, is what draws in extremist movements, leading France to "adopt a military posture" in the African Sahel, which extends from Guinea-Bissau on the west coast, all the way to the horn of Africa, sitting on the Gulf of Aden in the east.
"What we notice in Africa, especially striking in Africa, when there is a decomposition of the state, it is a call for terrorist groups, it is true in Mali, it is true in the C.A.R., and tomorrow it could be true somewhere else," Le Drian explained. France, backed by the United Nations Security Council, sent troops to the C.
A.R. in early December to quell heavy fighting between Muslim rebels, known as the Seleka, led by Michel Djotodia.
Djotodia had seized power in a coup from former President Francois Bozize, prompting Christian militias to wage mob justice again Muslims on the streets, as they seek revenge for attacks on their communities.
Le Drian maintained that despite the religious labels, "it's all political" in the C.A.R.
"The situation today is mobilizing 1,600 French troops" with "a triple mission," he said.
The first of these goals is "to ensure the security level could increase, to ensure massacres could stop" stated Le Drian. The second is "to make sure MISCA (the African-led International Support Mission to the C.A.R.) can be structured so that it can take over for security purposes," while the third is "to make sure the political transition process can take place as soon as possible." The defense minister stressed that the African Union, as well as France and its international partners "must avoid the composition of pockets of mercenaries" in the C.A.R., pointing to the case of Libya which was infiltrated by foreign fighters.
"The African awareness of the fact that collective security is good, that it must be managed by Africans themselves, should result in the constitution of structured military that won't be beholden to a group," he noted.
"But it's not enough, we should have civilian missions working with the state, and we have to act on the security of their borders." Looking to the Obama administration, Le Drian said the relationship between the U.S. and France "has never been this strong," and it is "an indispensable partner."
"Africa could be the crucible of the strengthening of the partnership between France and the U.S., and even between the European Union and the U.S., " he stated. U.N. officials have warned that the violence in the C.A.R. could escalate to genocide, as more than 1,000 people were killed last month alone, many of them lynched, hacked or burned to death. One million others have fled the country out of fear.