France Mulls Effectiveness of Having Troops Patrol Streets in Bid to Deter Terror

by FAYçAL BENHASSAIN August 17, 2017


The most recent terror attack targeting patrolling soldiers in Paris has raised questions about the wisdom and effectiveness of a military operation first set in place after terrorists shot dead 12 people at the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo more than two years ago.

President Emmanuel Macron has signaled a review in the fall of Operation Sentinel, which originally saw 10,000 armed soldiers deployed in the streets of France's cities to protect citizens and deter terror. Numbers have since been reduced to 7,000.

In the latest incident, an Algerian citizen was arrested hours after allegedly driving his car into a group of soldiers preparing to patrol in Paris on August 9, injuring six before fleeing the scene.

Experts say the strategy has made patrolling soldiers a terrorist target.

"The military forces are not trained to do civil security work," said Georges Fenech, a former lawmaker and head of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the ISIS terror attacks in Paris in November 2015.

He noted that soldiers are not allowed to search people or premises, even in emergencies, but must wait for police or gendarmes to arrive. They may also only use weapons in self-defense.

"They have no efficiency in the fight against terror," Fenech said.

Gen. Dominique Trinquand, former head of the French military mission to the U.N., disagreed, saying the operation could be seen to be "doing its job" since soldiers are protecting civilians who are now being targeted less frequently by terrorists.

There is no evidence that the presence of soldiers patrolling streets, the metro or buildings such as museums have prevented any attacks, although some argue that the low number of attempted attacks may have been a result of the operation.

Military personnel have been attacked six times on the streets of Paris, in the Louvre museum, and at Orly airport since 2016.

Jean Charles Brisard, president of the Center of Analysis of Terrorism, questioned the efficiency of the plan.

"The military are now the target of the terrorists. To give you an example, in Europe 53 percent of the terrorist's attacks were against military in the last years," he said.

"Therefore, it is imperative to review the missions of all forces, mainly those of the military, who should concentrate only in external battlefields."

Brisard said additional resources - personnel and materials - should be allocated to the police, and private companies should be contracted to undertake surveillance missions.

Operation Sentinel is estimated to cost between 400,000 and one million euro ($468,000-$1,17 million) a day.

Former Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers last year the operation cost around 176 million euro ($206 million) in 2015 and 145 million euro ($170 million) in 2016.

About half of the patrolling soldiers are deployed in greater Paris and the rest elsewhere in the country.

Military chiefs have proposed reducing the number to 3,000, although such decisions will be taken by political leaders.

Many critics have raised concerns that exhaustion, deployments far from families, and a reduction in the number of training days are hampering the troops' effectiveness.

The new minister of the armed forces, Florence Parly, said this week the operation will "remain in place as long as it would be useful for the protection of the French."


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