Is France Preparing A Ground Invasion in Libya?
France is setting up a base in northern Niger as part of an operation aimed at stopping al-Qaida-linked militants from crisscrossing the Sahel-Sahara region between southern Libya and Mauritania, according to this VOA News article. Alawsat’s Libyan website, however, disclosed that a French diplomatic source was certain that Paris had no intention to intervene militarily in Libya
France has been the most vocal western superpower to condemn the Islamist presence in Libya, calling for the placement of Ansar Al-Sharia on the United Nations terror organization list. Paris, which has led efforts to push back Islamists in the region since intervening in its former colony Mali last year, redeployed troops across West Africa earlier this year to form a counter-terrorism force. Diplomatic sources estimate that about 300 fighters linked to al-Qaida’s North African arm AQIM are operating in southern Libya, a key point on smuggling and trafficking routes across the region. With Libya being awash in weapons, France is intent on protecting its commercial interests in its former colonial subjects of Algeria, Gabon and Senegal and ensuring that the Mediterranean remains a safe environment for commerce and trade.
It will be interesting to see if this latest deployment in Niger will evolve in the direction of the rumours — escalating into a full out ground presence in Libya. The French President Francois Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who have championed a political solution, insist on supporting the work of the United Nations and its envoy to Libya. With that being said, France would likely be the first major power to take action in Libya should a failure in the political dialogue lead to a destabilization of the Mediterranean. With yesterday’s massive suicide attack in Benghazi, we may be reaching that point.