Whether it is to serve as a diversion from the ongoing deterioration in the French economy (purchases of French sovereign bonds by the SNB implying "all is well" notwithstanding), to distract public attention from the recent humiliation (and backfire) of the socialist government's "tax the rich" campaign or for whatever other reason, is unclear for now, but what is clear is that over the past two days France has launched a major airstrike and military campaign against Islamist rebels in northern Mali, the pretext being that control of northern Mali by the rebels posed a security threat to Europe.
What is also clear is that even as France is protecting "European interests" deep in the heart of African darkness, elsewhere in Africa, the socialist country, whose military "expertise" is best known for building impassable fortifications all around perfectly crossable forests, suffered yet another offensive humiliation when not only was a hostage held by Somalian insurgents, al Shabaab, killed during an attempted rescue operation, but a commando from the "rescuing" team was allegedly left behind during the bungled operation. The cherry on top in president Hollande's first major foreign policy excursion is that the same insurgents subsequently released a statement that the hostage was perfectly safe, even as a French pilot was killed in the Mali airstrikes early on in the campaign, all of which probably makes France wish it had just stayed home.
From Reuters on what is set to be another major humiliation for the French "military machine":
French fighter jets bombed Islamist rebels in Mali for a third day on Sunday as Paris poured more troops into the capital Bamako, awaiting the arrival of a West African force to dislodge al Qaeda-linked insurgents from the country's north.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France's dramatic intervention on Friday to bomb a convoy of heavily armed Islamist fighters sweeping southwards had stopped them from seizing Mali's capital Bamako within days.
Western countries fear Islamists could use Mali as a base for attacks on the West, forming a link with al Qaeda militants in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.
Le Drian said former colonial power France was carrying out continuous bombing raids against the alliance of rebel groups, which seized the country's vast desert north in April.
"There are raids going on now: there were some last night, and there will be more tomorrow," Le Drian told French television. "The president is totally determined that we must eradicate these terrorists who threaten the security of Mali, our own country and Europe."
A Reuters cameraman reported seeing on Sunday more than 100 French troops disembarking from a military cargo plane at Bamako airport, just on the outskirts of the capital.
Bamako itself was calm on Sunday, with the sun streaking through the dust enveloping the city as the seasonal Harmattan wind blew from the Sahara. Some cars drove around with French flags draped from the windows to celebrate Paris's intervention.
President Francois Hollande has made it clear that France's aim in Mali is to support the deployment of a West African mission to retake the north, endorsed by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.
A French pilot was killed on Friday when rebels in Mali shot down his helicopter.
Naturally, since Russia (or China) have no interest in preserving their geopolitical interest in the west-African republic, the UN has no problem with sanctioning a military operation over yet another sovereign. But at least it's democratic.
As for the parallel campaign staged by France several thousand miles east in Somalia, things did not turn out quite as good.
France sent special forces into Somalia to rescue a secret agent but insurgents apparently killed their hostage during the raid along with a commando, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Saturday.
The intelligence agency team flew into southern Somalia by helicopter under cover of darkness to try to free Denis Allex, held since 2009, by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, on the same day France launched air strikes against Islamist militants in Mali.
"Commandos broke into where Allex was being detained last night and immediately faced strong resistance," Le Drian told a news conference.
"Intense combat took place, during which - and now I speak with caution - everything leads us to believe that Denis Allex was unfortunately killed by his captors."
The defence ministry said earlier that 17 Somali fighters were killed in a mission prompted by "the intransigence of the terrorists, who refused to negotiate for three and half years".
What is worse are reports from the locals that the hostage was not in fact killed, suggesting the French expedition merely used his death as a scapegoat to justify a retreat so prompt it may even have left one of its commandos behind:
Sowing confusion, Al Shabaab said in a statement that Allex was still alive.
A French commando died from wounds sustained in the Somali raid and a second was missing, Le Drian said.
Al Shabaab said in a statement that Allex was alive and being held at a location far from the base where French military helicopters attacked overnight.
"The injured French soldier is now in the custody of the mujahideen and Allex still remains safe and far from the location of the battle," it said. "Several French soldiers were killed in the battle and many more were injured before they fled from the scene of battle, leaving behind some military paraphernalia and even one of their comrades on the ground."
When asked about whether the missing commando was now in the hands of Al Shabaab, French Army chief Admiral Edouard Guillaud said: "If he is alive then he could be, but he could also be hiding."
Embarassing or not, the French military campaign is merely doing the one thing all "developed, democratic" governments do when left with no other options: distract from problems inside the country. And as can be seen in the list below, France certainly has experience in protecting its national interests especially within its former African colonies:
- 1991 - DJIBOUTI/ETHIOPIA - French troops based in Djibouti help check the Afar rebellion and disarm Ethiopian soldiers who cross the border after the overthrow of Ethiopian President Mengistu Haile Mariam.
- 1994 - RWANDA - French and Belgian soldiers evacuate Europeans from Rwanda as Hutu hardliners massacre hundreds of thousands, mainly Tutsis. Later in the year some 2,500 French troops, backed by contingents from African countries, launch "Operation Turquoise", described as a humanitarian effort, from Zaire into eastern Rwanda.
- 1995 - COMOROS - French forces crush a repeat coup attempt led by French mercenary Bob Denard against President Said Mohamed Djohar. About 200 French soldiers forced Denard to leave the Comoros and restored order after president Ahmed Abdallah's assassination by his guard in 1989.
- 1996/97 - CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC - French troops intervene to end army pay mutiny against President Ange-Felix Patasse.
- 1997 - CONGO REPUBLIC - Some 1,200 French troops rescue French and African nationals during fighting between Congo army and supporters of military leader Denis Sassou Nguesso, now president again.
- 2002 - IVORY COAST - French forces mount "Operation Licorne" to help westerners trapped by a military uprising which effectively cut Ivory Coast in two. In 2004 they destroyed Ivory Coast's small air force after government forces bombed a French base.
- 2008 - CHAD - A new French intervention bolsters the regime of Chadian president Idriss Deby and evacuates foreigners during attacks by rebels who crossed from neighbouring Sudan.
- 2011 - LIBYA - French planes are the first to bomb Muammar Gaddafi's forces in March after the United Nations voted to allow intervention in Libya to protect civilians caught up in a rebellion against Gaddafi's four-decade rule. NATO took command of the overall mission on March 31 which allowed Libyan rebels to defeat government forces and effectively seize power.
- 2011 - IVORY COAST - French forces tip the balance alongside U.N. forces in the civil war which erupted after the refusal of Laurent Gbagbo to step down and accept the election victory of Alassane Ouattara as president.
- 2013 - French aircraft pound Islamist rebels in Mali after they tried to expand their power base and headed towards the Malian capital, Bamako. France had warned that the control of northern Mali by the rebels posed a security threat to Europe. At the same time France mounted an unsuccessful commando raid to try to rescue a French hostage held by al Shabaab militants in Somalia, also allied to al Qaeda. The hostage was killed.
All of which leads us to one simple conclusion: expect some very ugly economic numbers out of France now that even Germany is expected to report the first leg of a full blown recession.