France Takes the Lead on CAR. But this Will Be Much Different than Mali

Like in Mali, France will play an outsized role in the international efforts to bring some stability to the Central African Republic. The Security Council resolution, passed unanimously this morning, gives the French forces a very expansive leeway to support the African Union-led mission, known as MISCA.  Here’s the part of the resolution pertinent to French military involvement.

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 3.25.42 PM And here is the mandate of MISCA, to which French forces are afforded “all necessary measures” to  help uphold.

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The phrase “all necessary measures”  is as close to a carte blanche for military activity as the Security Council can give. It provides France with the legal authority to engage in assertive military action to protect civilians, ensure humanitarian corridors and, in general, support the stabilization of the country. France can use any manner of military action to enforce this mandate, including airpower.

The fact that France is once again supporting an African led peacekeeping force in a former French colony clearly makes the situation in CAR ripe for comparison with the Mali intervention earlier this year. The mission in CAR, though, will arguably be more complex for the fact that while there is insecurity, there is no outright war or battlefront.

In Mali, France intervened at a decisive moment to push a Al Qeada-linked rebels back from the front line. The French eventually bested these rebels in submission in a classic, battlefield sense, scoring tactical victories on the ground.  In the Central African Republic, the mission is much less cut and dry. The problems in CAR are born from lawlessness, banditry, and a crude reprisal attacks between ad hoc, ethnic militias against members of another sect.  There is no real “front line.” The mission is to restore law and order and help protect civilians. This is a much, much harder task than fighting and winning battles against identifiable enemies. It also probably takes far more troops than France is willing to commit at the moment.