French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said today that the French military effort would last "a matter of weeks," and did not signal a long-term presence in the country. The Financial Times reports that he said France has "no intention of staying forever," though he did not rule out a later return as "back-up" for Mali. The Financial Times notes that although several hundred French troops have been deployed to Bamako and the city of Mopti, they are not expected to be part of a ground offensive. Rather, they are expected to provide support to a combination of Mali's army and a mixture of West African forces committed to help by the regional Economic Community Of West African States bloc.
But the French campaign may prove to be more involved than planned. The Monitor reported yesterday that while the bombing campaign has so far proven effective in driving the Islamists back, "few believe that airpower alone will be enough to uproot what many analysts consider to be a well-armed and battle-hardened adversary."
In fact, a presidential official quoted by the Agence France Presse said that French armed forces were surprised by the military capacity of the Islamist militants.
"At the start, we thought they would be just a load of guys with guns driving about in their pick-ups, but the reality is that they are well-trained, well-equipped, and well-armed,” the official told AFP. "From Libya they have got hold of a lot of up-to-date sophisticated equipment which is much more robust and effective than we could have imagined," he continued, alluding to weapons that were smuggled into Mali after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi.