By J.M. Guhl
EDR-Eurosatory Show Daily-On-Line met Aurélie Pirillo on her return from Africa and questioned her about the presence of the French Army on the continent and her opinion on the Eurosatory show, which will open its doors from June 13 to 17.
Aurélie Pirillo is the candidate officially invested by the right and the centre for French citizens living abroad in Africa and the Middle East on the occasion of the legislative elections which will take place in June 2022.
Currently Councillor of Paris, for 10 years chief of staff of the deputy-mayor of the 16th arrondissement of Paris and former minister of President Jacques Chirac, Aurélie Pirillo has worked for a decade in the National Assembly with the Foreign Affairs Commission as well as friendship groups with many African and Middle Eastern countries.
Tell us about your area of expertise, that is to say the French military presence in Africa…
France has forces pre-positioned in Africa to serve the mutual interest of France and the host country. These are of two distinct types. The « sovereign » forces on the one hand, present on the national territory in the Antilles, in the Indian Ocean, in New Caledonia and in Polynesia. And the so-called « presence » forces on the other hand, located in countries that are friends of France and organized in BOAs (forward operational bases) in Djibouti, Côte d’Ivoire and the United Arab Emirates, or in POCs (cooperation centres ) in Gabon and Senegal.
A typical example, the 6th Marine Infantry Battalion (6th BIM) is the historical battalion of the French Army located at Camp de Gaulle in Libreville, Gabon since independence. Serving simultaneously as the centre of gravity of a privileged relationship between two States linked by their history, an operational support point in the region, and a vector of intelligence and actions in partnership with the Gabonese army, it is undoubtedly a remarkable example of the benefits and the relevance of having pre-positioned forces outside mainland France.
Do these pre-positioned forces respond to the need to protect national territory or do they just have a crisis prevention role?
Pivotal to French capabilities on the ground, they first form “intelligence islands” present all over the world, providing France with the second largest military coverage on the planet after the United States. They also offer training capabilities that are unique in the world for our armed forces, thus guaranteeing their high level of hardening and operational readiness. Likewise, they are essential logistics bases for our external operations (Ivory Coast for Serval in 2013 then Barkhane from 2014, Libreville for Sangaris in 2013-2014, United Arab Emirates for Chammal in 2015-2018). Finally, if necessary, they offer the political decision-maker freedom of strategic action by their sole capacity for projection and dazzling (rapid response??).
Do these pre-positioned forces only have this role, both of intelligence gathering and training?
No, because they are above all remarkable tools of influence in the regions where they are based. Local partnerships supporting a privileged relationship with our allies are notably built up through military cooperation (PMO: operational military partnership), which, among other things, reinforces the autonomy of local armies. It should be recalled here that more than half of the twenty states contributing to the force of the UN blue helmets come from African countries.
It should be noted that the deterioration in security in many countries around the world in the 21st century is a reminder of the power issues to which France is bound, making these pre-positioned forces the cornerstone of our capacity for action and influence throughout the world. This system thus perfectly complements the French diplomatic and cultural network abroad.
How can France increase and perpetuate its influence throughout the world, and can it still do so?
At a time of the return of powerful States to the concert of nations, States which sometimes act outside the international diplomatic rules agreed upon since 1945 and the San Francisco conference — and which are pursuing uninhibited economic, military and strategic expansion, particularly in Africa, a unilateral expansion that upsets the balance with our historical allies — France must work actively to maintain its territory and its standing in its traditional areas of influence.
To do this, it must densify its military network with a more proactive PMO policy throughout Equatorial Africa, and therefore increase its volume of forces present in the current bases, and regain a foothold in the countries which it has almost deserted (Central African Republic, Cameroon, DRC, Benin, Togo, etc.).
In particular, France must seek to reincorporate its action into a long-term ambition and vision, so that the end of an external operation does not necessarily mean the end of the French military presence in the host country.
The aim here is to create a continuum of French presence by providing flexibility when changing the status of the military presence, to move more easily from « OPEX » status to « PMO » status, for example, in order to maintain a minimum number of bases in the partner country.
These partnerships will therefore no longer be just ad hoc partnerships due to ongoing external operations, but long-term alliances that will reassure our allies and offer our country influence and power (and this, at a reasonable financial cost compared with the overall budget of the Ministry of the Armed Forces).
Next month, from June 13 to 17, the Eurosatory exhibition will take place. What do you think of this event and do you plan to attend?
The Eurosatory show is one of a kind. It is there, in Villepinte, France, that the world’s largest fair for the Defence and Security industry will meet. It is a showcase of the current and future know-how of our industry and of the global international Defence and Security industry, which are absolutely necessary today for each State to preserve its sovereignty and maintain peace. As for my attendance, I will do my best to get there, since, as you know, it takes place between the two rounds of the legislative elections.