France Deploys Troops as Central African Republic Slides Toward Genocide
International intervention imminent in world’s second-worst war zone
France has announced the deployment of up to a thousand additional troops to Central African Republic as sectarian violence escalates in the unstable, landlocked country.
Paris has kept 600 soldiers in the capital of Bangui since a coup earlier this year toppled the president and created a power vacuum filled by Muslim rebels, anti-Muslim Christian militias, criminals and elephant poachers.
Adama Dieng, a U.N. special adviser, in November warned of escalating violence. “We are seeing armed groups killing people under guise of their religion and my feeling is that this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other,” he told the U.N. Security Council.
“If we don’t act now and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring in the Central African Republic,” Dieng added. In terms of potential for bloodshed, the conflict in CAR—a country many outsiders cannot locate on a map—is second only to the war in Syria.
Calling the current situation potentially “uncontrollable,” the U.N. Security Council approved an African Union peacekeeping force for Central African Republic—and also authorized French troops to support the peacekeepers. Nearly 4,000 A.U. troops are slated to replace a smaller force overseen by an African economic alliance.
New Central African president Michel Djotodia, installed by a now-splintering rebel coalition, possesses little power and has publicly welcomed foreign intervention. The U.K. pledged logistical support.
An extra 250 French troops—presumably part of the planned thousand reinforcements—rushed to Bangui on Dec. 5 following bloody gun battles and knifings in the city that morning. Doctors Without Borders told The New York Times that at least 50 people died.
If the intervention in CAR is anything like Paris’ attacks on Islamic militants in Mali in January, it could involve a blended force of French paratroopers, Special Operations Forces and mechanized troops leading large numbers of African infantry, with French gunship helicopters, jet fighters and drones in support. The U.S. aided the French in Mali with aerial tankers and intelligence.
But Central African Republic is arguably a more complex battlefield for an intervening force. Where Mali was contested by a single, mostly coherent armed group that could be identified and targeted, the combatants in CAR are a shifting mix of rebels, sectarian militias and criminals who could defy tidy delineation.