French President Francois Hollande arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris to speak about French airstrikes in Iraq against Islamic State militants, September 19, 2014

commentary

(The National Interest)

September 24, 2014

Does France Have the Master Plan to Defeat ISIS?

French President Francois Hollande arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris to speak about French airstrikes in Iraq against Islamic State militants, September 19, 2014

Photo by Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

by Christopher S. Chivvis

Early last year, France intervened in Mali against Al Qaeda's North African affiliate. They struck the jihadist groups violently with airpower and special forces, and then chased them out of the country with ground troops. To keep costs down and avoid an insurgency, after their initial operations, France gradually reduced its forces as an international, follow-on force flowed in.

The French strategy stopped a jihadist insurgency from taking over all of Mali, ejected the jihadists from the country almost entirely, and struck a major blow to their ability to threaten both the region and France itself.

In short, the French achieved on a smaller scale something very similar to what U.S. strategists hope to achieve now with operations against ISIS. The challenge in Mali was far less complex than any operation against ISIS will be, but French success nevertheless has some important lessons for U.S. debate about how to deal with ISIS today.

First, the French demonstrated that modern military forces can defeat—often fairly handily—insurgent groups that seek to fight like conventional forces. The French killed hundreds of jihadists in a few weeks, destroying the infrastructure that they had worked to build for years. This seriously undercut jihadist capabilities.

The United States and its allies have good reason to expect broadly similar success in the early stages of a similar strategy against ISIS.

The remainder of this commentary is available at nationalinterest.org.


Christopher S. Chivvis is a senior political scientist at RAND, the author of Toppling Qaddafi, and is completing a new book, Wildcat: The French War on Al Qaida in Africa.

This commentary originally appeared on The National Interest on September 24, 2014.