Despite a flurry of attacks pointing to the possibility of drawn-out insurgent fighting in Mali, the French government is still planning on withdrawing its roughly 2,500 troops in the West African country starting in March, potentially bringing to a close the lightning-fast French-led intervention in Islamist-held northern Mali that began on Jan. 11.
Analysts are beginning to consider the lessons of the brief campaign, which saw French and Malian troops, heavily supported by Europe and the U.S., retake the north 10 months after it was seized by militants including fighters from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The obvious and most important strategic lesson is that conventional invasions begin wars but don’t end them — and Mali could suffer a bloody insurgency lasting years, with only the Malians and a small West African peacekeeping force to maintain security.
But there are lessons at the operational level, as well. Joseph Henrotin, a Belgian editor, analyst and military-academy instructor, points to the tight coordination of space, air, ground, airborne and special operations forces as an example of something the French did right — and which allowed Paris to quickly dislodge the militants and withdraw speedily. “As African forces begins to arrive in the theater, we have witnessed a really clean model of ‘first in, first out’ compound warfare.”