Professor Clive Williams is speaking on "The French Military intervention in Mali", with Operation Serval. He commented the Sahel semi-arid region acts as a conduit for militants across Africa. Professor Williams commented the French military wheeled vehicles were suitable for such interventions. Equipment includes the ERC 90 Sagaie "Engin de Reconnaissance à Canon de 90 mm" and VBCI "Armoured vehicle for infantry combat"). Even so France needed assistance from the US Air Force to fly their equipment in. Air strikes were conducted out of metropolitan France and then from neighboring countries using the Dassault Rafale. The French also had Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopters equipped with a 20 mm cannon (which Professor Williams incorrectly identified as a machine gun).
France is planning to withdraw at the end of April, with Professor Williams commenting the issue of north versus south will not be solved. There are oil and gas installations in the Maghreb and Sahel which will need protection. It is not clear who will be willing to pay to keep the peace.
There are about 5,000 Australians in Africa working in the energy industry, who are potential hostages. Australia will be expected to contribute a small number of intelligence experts or military trainers to UN supported forces. Professor Williams commented that France paid ransom to release hostages and this money was funding rebellions. Also Australia would be in a difficult situation if any of their nationals would be held hostage: does Australia maintain their no ransom policy?
Professor Williams suggests that if the French stay too long they may become unpopular and subject to roadside bombs. There is also a risk of alienating parts of the domestic French population.
Interestingly at question time one of the audience said they were a former member of the French foreign legion and served in Africa (the audience had an interesting assortment of accents). They asked about Chinese investment in Africa.