Why the French are better at war than we imagine
The United States and France do not always agree on the military question. In 1966, French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO at the height of the Cold War to preserve French independence. (Nicolas Sarkozy joined the alliance in 2009.)
France tested nuclear devices for much of the 1990s, decades after most other nuclear powers signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. Lately, France has decided to join the "Coalition American-British volunteers to oust Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
The French in World War II
And because of the world wars of the 20th century, the French military tends to be viewed with disdain. The French were not so well off during World War I, as the German push through Belgium meant that much of the fighting took place on French soil.
The inability to push back the German forces made the French appear weak. In truth, it's a multinational force that failed to repel the invaders, so it's not entirely France's fault.
And then, of course, France's quick surrender and subsequent collaboration with the Nazis during World War II gave them the reputation they have today.
The truth is that the French armed forces are much more aggressive and operational than these few events would suggest. Apart from the Foreign Legion, which is remarkable in its own right, France projects its military power throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, and it is really good at it.
They just have a bad reputation. It was the French, led by Charles Martel, who prevented the Muslims from conquering Western Europe at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. Since then, the French have had victories and losses just like everyone else.
During World War II, the Free French forces had the momentum to fight their own compatriots who had sided with the collaborationist Vichy government. Free French troops worked in concert with the British and Americans throughout the war.
Those who could not escape the fall of France in 1940 fought as partisans for four years under Nazi occupation, participating in American and British intelligence operations, assassinations, sabotage, and playing a essential role in planning the D-Day invasions.
French Resistance operators are the symbol of underground resistance movements to this day.
After World War II, the French suffered a number of setbacks in their former colonies, notably in French Indochina, and in Algiers, where the independence movement brought a series of bloody and brutal attacks and counter-attacks. between French forces and Algerian rebels.
Since then, France has been resolute in its ideals and has been willing and able to support those ideals through military force.
France against terrorism
In response to the November 2015 attacks on Paris by ISIS (Daesh), France immediately launched at least 30 airstrikes against ISIS's only de facto capital, Raqqa.
French audacity allowed the United States to strike at ISIS oil installations in Iraq and Syria, one of the main sources of funding for the terrorist group. French nuclear-powered carrier Charles de Gaulle is currently en route to the Mediterranean to support anti-ISIS operations.
The Charles de Gaulle led an expedition of the French Navy quarter that supported operations in Afghanistan. The French launched 140 airstrikes to support ground operations during the 2001 invasion and lent their reconnaissance aircraft to support US special operations forces and later conventional forces in Operation Anaconda.
French land forces have been present in Afghanistan since 2010, and 88 soldiers have died there.
France is particularly active in its former African colonies. During the 2004 Ivorian civil war, the French sent 2,500 troops to keep the peace and prevent the sides from slaughtering each other.
When French and Western civilians were rescued by French military helicopters, crowds of Ivorians raided the homes of Westerners.
When Ivorian government forces, under the pretext of attacking rebel positions, struck a French base at Bouaké, killing nine people and wounding 31, the French retaliated with a land march on Yamoussoukro airport, eliminating a large part of the Ivorian Air Force on the ground, then capturing the country's main airport in Abidjan.
The French returned to Côte d'Ivoire in 2011 to finish off President Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to concede electoral defeat. The French ousted Gbagbo and arrested him, then overpowered the mercenaries hired by the former president.
The same year, French forces intervened in Libya to reconnoiter the country and bring out artillery and armor for dictator Muammar Gaddafi's effort to fill the streets of Benghazi with "rivers of blood".
The French also helped impose NATO "no-fly zones", giving Libyan rebels the air support needed to level the playing field in war against the Gaddafi regime.
In 2012, an Islamist group in Mali, Ansar Dine, supported Tuareg tribes and secular militias by declaring independence in the northern area of the former French colony. They quickly captured three of the largest cities in the country and imposed strict Sharia law.
The power vacuum has drawn insurgents and jihadists from other Islamist groups, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Mali's government fell in a coup led by Malian troops unhappy with the government's handling of the crisis.
Once an interim civilian government was restored in the capital of Bamako, Islamist militants began pushing towards the center of the country, and the French sent in the marines.
French airstrikes halted the Islamist advance and French troops helped the Malians retake the vital town of Konna. When the French and Malians reached Timbuktu, Islamist resistance was reduced to nothing. The operation lasted six months.