PARIS – Cracks in France’s united front behind military action in Mali appeared Wednesday as concern grew over the expanding operation and the reluctance of other Western powers to commit troops.
Opposition leader Jean-Francois Cope called the intervention “just and necessary” in a parliamentary debate that underlined strong support across the political spectrum. But Cope also admitted he was “extremely concerned that France should be so isolated.”
He went on to question President Francois Hollande’s diplomatic preparation for military action, asking, “Why have you not been able to put together a real coalition, as was the case in (the French-led intervention) in Libya in 2011?”
France’s NATO allies have expressed strong moral support for the intervention and offered various forms of logistical backing while ruling out sending any of their own combat troops. In France, the action has been backed across the political spectrum —with the exception of the far left — and by 75 percent of voters, according to the latest opinion poll.
Former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing said Hollande should have limited France’s action to the defense of Bamako before the arrival of African troops, writing in Le Monde newspaper that “airstrikes in the north and east of the country will hit the civilian population and repeat the pointless destruction of the war in Afghanistan with the same result.”
His comments echoed those of Dominique de Villepin, a Gaullist ex-prime minister, who warned that the Mali mission was destined to fail because its objectives were not clear.
Former Foreign Minister Alain Juppe described the deployment of ground troops as “extremely risky,” telling French radio Wednesday: “We have the means to do what we did at the start of the campaign, airstrikes, but we certainly don’t have the means to deploy in a territory two or three times as big as France. They are at home in the desert. We are not.”