France to withdraw 2100 troops from Africa

France plans to draw down its deployed forces in Africa by about 2100 to save between €100 and €150 million a year in what appears to be a proactive move to reposition the nation’s defence budget as the global financial crisis places government spending everywhere under further pressure.
The French ADIT research agency, quoting the country`s Ministry of Defence, says the withdrawal will mostly effect operations in Chad and the Ivory Coast. It translates into a 20% reduction of French foreign deployments, which last year cost taxpayers there €857 million, up from €685 million the year before.
The AP says Prime Minister Francois Fillon plans to return home at least 1000 soldiers of France’s 1650-strong mission to protect refugees in Chad.
The soldiers being pulled from Chad are part of the EUFOR mission to protect refugees who have fled the conflict in Darfur in neighbouring Sudan.
The European contingent is scheduled to be replaced by a UN force starting 15 March.
EUFOR had problems mustering enough soldiers from European Union nations and was hampered by a shortage of helicopters and planes from the start of the operation.
France will continue to furnish logistical aid to the U.N. force. Another French contingent in Chad since 1986 will aid the UN mission as it helped EUFOR deploy, the prime minister said.
Regarding the Ivory Coast, Fillon said the 1800-strong contingent there will be cut by half. French forces have been deployed in Ivory Coast since the start of the civil war there in September 2002 when they helped block the advance of northern rebels. The force was trimmed back in 2008, from 2400 to 1800, as the political situation there stabilised.
“In Ivory Coast, the security risk has become less intense, and waiting for the elections, whose timing is uncertain, does not justify maintaining our full military presence,” Reuters quotes the PM saying.
Elections have been repeatedly delayed during the difficult peace process in Ivory Coast, one of West Africa’s most stable countries before it was divided by war in 2002-03.
In addition to the national force there, France also contributed 200 troops to the United Nation’s UNOCI peacekeeping mission there and will recall those men this year.
The AP adds that French Defense Minister Herve Morin told the France-Soir newspaper that that he planned to reduce foreign deployments from 13 000 to 10 000 troops.
ADIT notes France has no plan to remove or add any personnel in the Afghan theatre. Poland has also announced that it may pull out its troops from Chad and Lebanon to cut costs and help ward off the effect of the financial crisis.
Meanwhile, the Irish Times says the cost of Eire`s EUFOR contingent in Chad for its 15 March 2008 to 15 March 2009 deployment has been about €57 million.
The paper adds the country`s Cabinet Tuesday approved the transfer of the troops from EUFOR to the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT). Currently, 434 Irish soldiers are serving with EUFOR – 18 at the operational headquarters in Paris and 416 in Chad.