Q. – Why has France decided to send Rafales to the NATO base in Sicily?
THE MINISTER – We have two priorities in mind: organizing the continuity of air operations and saving on the resources committed.
As France has the “Charles de Gaulle” [aircraft carrier] and the Solenzara base in Corsica, we haven’t had to resort to NATO bases, like that of Sigonella in Sicily. But we’re continuing to adapt our operations, to enable us to both stay the course and take into account the constraints of keeping our equipment in operational condition, which could lead us to bring the “Charles de Gaulle” back after 18 months at sea. And Sigonella is situated 500 km from Tripoli, as opposed to 1,000 km for Corsica.
Q. – Is this redeployment a sign that France is in the war for the long haul?
THE MINISTER – I’m not foreign minister; I’m not handling the political solution to the Libyan conflict. What I do know, as Defence Minister, is that military constraints must never prevent our diplomats and politicians from seeking a political solution. If Gaddafi has the slightest feeling that time is on his side, he’ll play that card to the full. The duration is up to us; we mustn’t be bound by either the timeframe or technical constraints. We’re showing our ability to stay the course. We’re focusing on the long term, and thus facilitating a negotiated solution. We’re telling Gaddafi we won’t let up our pressure, and we’re telling his opponents we won’t abandon them.
Q. – How much longer could this conflict last?
THE MINISTER – Once again, we’re acting with determination in order to speed up a solution to the crisis. We’re mobilizing substantial resources that are equal to the challenge. We must shoulder our responsibilities. True, the intervention has a cost, but it would cost us a lot more not to see things through. Every day, our pilots are demonstrating France’s political authority.
Q. – But the war is costing France €1.2 million every day…
THE MINISTER – The role of our military units isn’t to organize displays. This intervention has a cost, which we take on board. France’s operations abroad aren’t about to break the bank. In Côte d’Ivoire, we’ve already gone from having 1,300 men to fewer than 700, and soon we’ll have only 300 left. President Sarkozy has decided to reduce our presence in Afghanistan by a quarter in 2012.
Q. – What’s the situation on the ground?
THE MINISTER – We’re witnessing the inexorable crumbling of Gaddafi’s system. Things take time, but we can’t hold it against the rebels. Only a few weeks ago, these men were working as lawyers, mechanics and doctors. In such a short time, they couldn’t become effective professional soldiers like Gaddafi’s troops. But they’re brave, better organized and always protected by the coalition. A war is never a comfortable situation, but impatience never commanded success.
Q. – What’s needed to topple Gaddafi? Is a stronger commitment from France called for?
THE MINISTER – There’s no future for Libya with Gaddafi. Those who still support him should reflect more on this obvious fact. Things have got to move more in Tripoli. To put it clearly, the population has to rise up. In any case, the coming month will be intense. There won’t, I believe, be any break for Ramadan. France’s military commitment is sizeable and I’d like, here, to highlight the outstanding job done by our helicopter pilots, who are allowing us to sort the wheat from the chaff and then strike wisely. Out of 1,000 sorties, the coalition has been responsible for only two – obviously regrettable – strikes which hit civilians, and which I deplore. Two in 1,000.
Q. – But is France going to go on pursuing this war almost alone alongside the British?
THE MINISTER – France and Britain aren’t alone. But admittedly France would like her European Union partners – I’m thinking of Spain, Germany, Poland and the northern European nations – to support her more. The more of us there are to show that nothing is possible with Gaddafi, the more we’ll succeed in totally isolating him and the quicker this war will be over./.