Thursday, September 17, 2009

French Defense Minister: "Why We Should Not Leave Afghanistan"

French Defense Minister Herve Morin gave an interview to RMC earlier this week about France's involvement in Afghanistan and France's commitment to continued presence in Afghanistan. The minister doesn't often speak to the media (or at least not that I've seen) so this is interesting for several reasons. First it gives some insight into his thinking on the French presence and gives some idea of how he's selling it at home. Second, it gives at least a glimpse of the level of discourse and complexity of discussion on these issues (from what you'll see below, it doesn't seem like very much). So let's get to my quick and dirty translation of some key points:
"If we leave, there is a major risk of contagion in this crisis arc. Pakistan...has nuclear weapons. We must therefore revise our strategy, particularly by focusing less on the Taliban and more on the population. We must manage to create conditions of trust with the population so that the people cooperate with coalition forces and not with the Taliban."
"If we leave, we make Afghanistan the base for terrorism. Our compatriots must keep in mind that, around the world, every day, thanks to cooperation between intelligence services, we stop terrorist plots and curtail terrorist networks. This is the main threat. "
In the interview, Morin apparently also discussed the need for benchmarks for withdrawal, casting them as a tool to educate the public (and presumably build support for continued support). Mostly though, he said that leaving would mean a lot of wasted effort. He specifically mentions the roads built, the children put in school etc and argues that if France leaves all of that would be for naught.

So it seems the Minister has the basics down on COIN but it's still not a terribly sophisticated discussion. An important thing to remember though is that French policy, until last year's Defense White Paper, (and ensuing legislation) did not mandate parliamentary consultation for deploying forces overseas. Indeed, that required a mere presidential notification to the lower house. What does that mean? That the French executive branch is still learning how to justify its decisions. It's going to have to get better at it though because the laws that were passed following the publication of the White Paper say that the lower house must periodically re-authorize deployments .


  1. Crisis arc, Pakistani nukes, regional conflagration, kids in school, sunk costs... Yawn.

  2. The Pakistani nukes and the risk of the Indian response to an AQ linked (Haqqani, Lashkar e Taiba, Jaish e Mohammed, one of the anti Shia outfits, or the Pakistani Taliban) 9/11 or larger scale terrorist attack against an Indian population center are very real.

    The French seem to be doing a good job in their OMLT teams. Perhaps the French military contribution to Afghanistan could be redesigned to be one advisory brigade super embedded in the ANSF; that is sustained over the long run.

    The French could either adopt one ANA Corps, or responsibility for provincial ANP from several provinces, or responsibility for two or more ANCOP brigades (that would be 10 ANCOP combat battalions.) To make this more palatable to the French the US could deploy several US advisory battalions under French command; thereby giving the French complete responsibility for a large section of the ANSF.

    I think defining the French military mission as training and mentoring the ANSF might be more palatable to the French public over the long run.

  3. It has a very familiar ring, no? You'd think the French would have a better understanding of the situation, considering their past history of counterinsurgency efforts. Or maybe the new younger French are more influenced to maintain good relations with the US govt and therefore say whatever they need to say to justify these actions (much like the Brits). But it's clear they don't have the commitment behind their words to do more than stand behind the US forces, as long as we're there.

  4. Gulliver--you saying I'm boring?

    Anand--your point on French OMLTs is interesting, know of anywhere I could read about their work more? I agree that training and mentoring is likely more palatable to the French public.

    J--On a better French understanding of all of this, they're only just (re)discovering things I think and haven't put much thought into all of this it seems.

  5. Gulliver--you saying I'm boring?

    Nope, I'm saying that more of the same boilerplate rationale and unsupported assertion is boring.

  6. But Gulliver, the boilerplate rationale seems to go both ways! Also, the points must be made continually to the public because not everyone is paying attention in the same way. For it to 'set' with the public, repetition has to happen, right? Well, I'm assuming, I don't know for sure.

    Listening to the "Three strategies for Afghanisan," hearing yesterday, it seemed to me that Drs. Nagl, Biddle, and Rory Stewart all made some level of assertion. Granted, the nature of the hearing was such that they couldn't flesh out their answers, so it's not to fault anyone, and, to be fair, all three had plenty of known unknowns discussed. I think. It's all very confusing:

    1. We make plans to withdraw and pursue a more pure CT operation - has some risk in relation to Pakistan.
    2. We pursue Triage and make plans to withdraw after some benchmarks are met - has some risk in relation to Pakistan.
    3. We source a much more robust COIN - has some risk in relation to Pakistan.

    How do you determine the nature of the risk in all three scenarios? And, not everything is binary, some actions may stabilize one thing, and destabilize another, and who the heck knows what the tipping points are?

    (Seriously, how do planners make these sorts of risk assessments? How is anyone to know, and what data or measurements does one use?)

  7. @ LIL:
    Did you see this article about the French adding more Special Forces in Afghanistan, which would lead to the creation of the Lafayette Brigade?

  8. Alex, oui merci! Je l'avais vu. And I will do my best to translate tonight Anand (and respond to your message)...Crashing on something at work.