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Europe

Eye on France: A farewell to the finest

media Heroes: Cédric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, the marines who lost their lives freeing hostages in Burkina Faso. Sirpa Marine/Handout via REUTERS

Earlier this Tuesday, Cédric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, the two French marine commandos who died last Friday in the effort to free hostages in Burkina Faso, were buried with full military honours after a ceremony at Les Invalides in Paris.

Left-leaning Libération chooses to mark the occasion with a front-page story devoted to the dangers of tourism to certain destinations. You will know that there has been a heated debate about the wisdom of the two French nationals involved in last week’s tragedy, kidnapped in Benin in a zone which, because of a resurgence of Islamist militancy, has been considered as “high risk” for French tourists since December when it was formally categorized as dangerous by the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Libé’s editorial is clear.

The anonymous Twitter campaign against the two travelers, inspired by some political figures, is cowardly and unfair. No one could doubt the sincerity of their grief at the deaths of two of their saviours.

And Libération goes on to say, without recommending any suicidal ventures into the planet’s many dangerous zones, that such gestures by those who continue to visit countries under attack can be seen as an act of resistance against terrorism.

Local communities need such brave expressions of solidarity, says Libé, both economically and psychologically.

And the military authorities have already ended the senseless debate with the simple statement, “If we had to do it again, we would.”

To live and die like heroes

In the course of this morning’s ceremony, President Emmanuel Macron praised the two men who, he said, had given their lives like heroes. He promised that their names will never be forgotten, before naming them knights of the Légion d’honneur.

In an interview in Le Figaro, the chief of staff of the French navy, Admiral Christophe Prazuck, says the courage shown by the two men makes all additional commentary superfluous.

Army chief General Bruno Dary describes Friday’s action to free the hostages as “a bitter victory,” reminding us that the heroism of the two dead soldiers is considered ordinary, normal in the elite group among military elites of which they were members.

An essay in the same Le Figaro wonders if we are worthy of such heroes.

The writer reminds us of the sacrifice of Arnaud Beltrame, the police officer who took the place of a hostage and lost his life 15 months ago, of the 25 anonymous firemen who went into the inferno of Notre Dame at the height of the blaze, and now of Cédric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello.

Le Figaro goes on to contrast that sort of heroism with the dying but still dangerous violence of some radical Yellow Vest protestors and the Black Bloc anarchists who have attached themselves like parasites to the citizens’ movement.

And the right-wing daily goes on to castigate those who use social media as a vector for hatred; those who are actively campaigning against the very idea of the French nation in their efforts to win seats in the European parliament; those who are incapable of stepping outside the box of their own judicial and financial interests to recognise that there are French co-citizens living in real difficulty just around the corner.

Problems on every street corner

Le Figaro doesn’t mention them but we should, I suppose, spare a thought for those living just around the corner, on the pavement in fact, also in real difficulty, who are not French but Eritrean, Ethiopian, Syrian, Kurdish or Afghan, refugees attracted here by economic need and by the sort of security which Cédric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello died defending.

France and the losing strategy of Operation Barkhane

Le Figaro continues its analysis with a look back at six years of French military involvement in Mali.

The idea of Operation Barkhane was to soften up local militant groups and help the various national armies to confront them directly. According to Le Figaro, it’s simply not working out like that. The armies in question are not up to the job of following the French spearhead.

The Burkinabé military have still not recovered from the disorganisation which followed the end of the Campaoré era; in Mali, the ranks are predominantly filled with soldiers from the south of the country, but the action is in the north meaning these men are virtually strangers in their own land. There have been clashes with local civilians, instead of with the enemy Islamists. The contributions of the other members of the so-called G5 Sahel, they are Mauritania, Niger and Chad, have not been at the level hoped for by the French planners of the combined action.

And so the French remain in the frontline. As Le Figaro reports, huge swathes of central Mali remain under Islamist control. While the French patrol, the holy warriors fade into the landscape, only to emerge once the armoured vehicles have moved on.

Sadly, we can expect more military funerals.

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