The experience the French army has gained in Afghanistan must be harvested “but we must not let it deform us because this was a very particular operation in a very particular environment,” says the French army chief of staff General Bertrand Ract-Madoux.
Breakfasting yesterday morning with the Association of French Defense Journalists (AJD), he said the army was currently “over-trained” for this type of operation and so as the withdrawal from Afghanistan continues “we will concentrate our efforts on providing training and instruction to our troops in preparation for other types of engagement.” He added that he does “not doubt for one instant” that the French army will be called upon by international bodies such as NATO or the UN to take part in new multi-national missions in the future and these are unlikely to be in similar operational conditions to the one in Afghanistan.
Asked to comment about last week's announcement by the UK Defense Secretary Philip Hammond that Britain's army would be cut from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020 and would rely heavily on reserve troops (the Territorial Army as it is known in the UK) whose numbers will double to 30,000, Ract-Madoux said the French army was also disbanding regiments and total army numbers would drop below 100,000 this year. But he added that “we are ready to give a more important role to reservists only if two conditions are met: firstly, we need a greater reserve budget (it is currently less than €50 million a year) and as long as we don't have a guarantee that these funds are perennial then we cannot build major projects for the reserve. Secondly, the compensation to companies for letting their employees leave their jobs to meet their obligations as reservists are not sufficient, so some legislation is necessary in this field.” In other words, companies will need incentives and encouragement to give their employees the time off to be a soldier.
He remarked that the British Army has always been smaller than the French one, but then combat helicopters are part of the French Army while in the UK they are part of the Royal Air Force.
And in an inadvertent denial of Bill Sweetman's editorial in the new-look Defense Technology edition of AW&ST (what d'you think of it by the way?), he says that “no boots on the ground makes no sense.”
Meanwhile, nearly 17,000 British armed forces personnel will be on standby to help with security at the Olympic Games which open in just over two weeks. This is 3,500 more than originally planned because private contractor G4S fears it cannot supply the number of trained guards in time.
What will the UK government do in the future when it needs 3,500 highly trained young men and women who will give up their summer vacation on order because their country needs them?