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“The armies will participate in the national effort against the epidemic only marginally”

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The President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, visiting the military field hospital erected in front of the Mulhouse hospital (Haut-Rhin), on March 25. Mathieu Cugnot / AP

The President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, announced during his television address, on Wednesday evening March 25, that the army was going to participate in the fight against the Covid-19 epidemic within the framework of a ” dedicated military operation Resilience ”. Nathalie Guibert, our defense specialist journalist, answered your questions in a chat on Thursday.

Laura: Can you explain the exact role of the military? We know that the military will be called upon to help the population, but in practice, what does that mean?

The three armies have already launched three main contributions: an aircraft of the medical air force transports patients, a helicopter carrier of the navy evacuated patients from Ajaccio to Marseille and the army mounted the health service tents for the thirty intensive care beds in Mulhouse.

There were convoys of mask boxes to depots. For the rest, it is still unclear: it could be transportation in support of hospitals, securing sites to avoid theft of medical equipment or why not the evacuation of dead in places where the usual staff argue their right of withdrawal …

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Coronavirus: details of military operation “Resilience” announced by Emmanuel Macron remain unclear

Mrs. Z: When the President announces that the army will come to support the public services, can that also include a reinforcement of the work of the police by soldiers?

These reinforcements, possibly brought to the internal security forces, are strictly framed by the Constitution: the military cannot carry out public order or police missions. They can act in addition, for guards in front of buildings for example. The rule is that, outside of a state of siege, they act if the action of the police and the gendarmerie is “Non-existent, insufficient, unsuitable or unavailable”.

Read also Covid-19: army priority remains military operations

Thibaud: What can the armies concretely face in this complex and massive situation? We would tend to think that the army is the answer to everything, but we know that it is not or no longer true.

Indeed, many French people, but also many political decision-makers, see the army as it was until the reforms of the 1990s and its professionalization. Since then, its resources and manpower have been reduced and, above all, its primary mission is to wage war, mainly beyond our borders.

When official documents mention the mission of protecting the French and the national territory, it is first to prevent an enemy from entering our skies, our maritime approaches; to dissuade any actor from threatening the sovereignty of French overseas territories; to prevent terrorist attacks, including abroad. In other words, armies cannot but participate in the national effort against the coronavirus epidemic, but they will do so only marginally, unless the President orders them to quit their war operations.

Mili history: Isn’t there a risk that by mobilizing the armed forces here, President Macron could be exposed to criticism of an overused military tool? Isn’t LPM initiated by Emmanuel Macron too late?

The subject is not so much that of means in absolute terms, but of means related to ambitions: the budget of the armies, after having been greatly reduced since the end of the 1990s, has started to rise since the terrorist attacks of 2015, who demonstrated that if we wanted to put 10,000 soldiers in Operation Sentinel, we had to recruit again.

The armies have money today, 37.5 billion euros for 2020. But this budget is committed to do anything other than a disaster relief operation.

Marc: The presence of the army on the streets is a source of anxiety. Should we expect checkpoints at the level of essential shops or hospitals? If so, will these soldiers carry out the same checks as the police?

The military will be able to guard sites, as they do as part of Vigipirate. But they will not do police checks because they do not have the legal powers and the police are not asking for mixed patrols.

NigrandeNimuette: Does this crisis reveal a lack of a management plan for a large-scale bacteriological attack?

The state is no more prepared for a very large bacteriological attack than the coronavirus. There would be a lack of beds, strategic stocks of medicines, etc. But military units have been specialized in “NRBC” operations (nuclear, radiological, bacteriological and chemical) and are efficient.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Coronavirus: in military hospitals, “patients are surging”

Peace: I remember an edition of the Cadre noir, in Saumur, organized by the army with remarkable efficiency. I have the impression that this local, organizational army no longer exists and has given way entirely to the management of international conflicts.

You are right to note that the French army was reorganized entirely on an expeditionary model, outside the national territory. This is evidenced by the drastic reduction in the number of its vehicles (900 multipurpose land carriers and 6,000 trucks in the army), its ammunition depots, etc.

Emmanuel Macron in Mulhouse, March 25.
Emmanuel Macron in Mulhouse, March 25. MATHIEU CUGNOT / AFP

Mickaël: With the streets and the establishments empty, why not have suspended Sentinel to allow the soldiers to rest or help “Resilience”?

Because the coronavirus did not kill all the terrorists on the planet in one fell swoop!

Peace: Isn’t community life for soldiers problematic?

Of course, under these circumstances, like ours at the office, at the supermarket or on the subway. Telework measures have been taken by the ministry, so have “distancing” procedures – for example, meal times at the mess spread out.

Military schools with their dormitories have been closed. But not all, and there are still military and civilian personnel on air bases and in regiments. The chiefs must appreciate the state of health of their subordinates and the possibility of continuing operations (which the President of the Republic wishes), which is currently causing questions, even criticism, in the ranks.

Micheline: I saw last night that French troops in Iraq were going to be repatriated to the national territory. Will these troops be mobilized as part of Operation “Resilience”?

I do not know. They are instructors who train the Iraqi army and specialists in the field of explosives, for example, and they will be invaluable in other areas of external operations. This repatriation takes place in a coordinated fashion with that of the Americans and that of the British, and is not entirely due to the health crisis. The Iraqi government wants foreign troops to leave, but these training missions should continue.

Read also Coronavirus: France withdraws troops from Iraq amid health crisis

Simon: Is Operation “Resilience” something that has been planned for a long time or has everything been put in place in recent days?

Very frequent defense councils are held at the Elysée Palace and these measures have been prepared, because the work of the General Staff is to propose means to the President of the Republic and to plan their implementation, which takes time. But the government also makes decisions on a daily basis, because the crisis is exceptional and rapid. And, in this case, there is hardly any resilience, but rather a psychosis among the population – the rushes for basic necessities – and a great disorganization of the State to find the means to face up – to lack of masks, for example.

Creating an operation is an idea that allows you to gather under one hat the scattered actions that were launched. This serves power crisis communication and is motivating for those involved in operations.

Tif: Do soldiers have the right to strike or to withdraw?

No. Their status says that “The exercise of the right to strike is incompatible with the military state” and “Soldiers may be called upon to serve anytime, anywhere”.

Dan: Apart from securing certain places and the transport that you mentioned in the missions devolved to the army because of the coronavirus, isn’t the army also used by the president mainly as an image of “war” that he declared to the virus?

The President of the Republic chose the image of war, and he presented himself as war chief, in his functions as chief of the armies. His communication in Mulhouse, with the choice of placing himself in front of the military tents which house thirty resuscitation beds (and two patients when he spoke) can be considered excessive on this register, because it is indeed the nearby civilian hospital which is under fire from the coronavirus. All the services of the State are mobilized, naturally, but certain soldiers expressed to me their embarrassment in front of this communication and would have preferred more modesty.

Elgordo: A thought for our submariners who will discover with dismay the state of our world by surfacing. At least they’re sure they don’t have the Covid-19. I think I remember that you had the honor of boarding one of our submarines?

The submariners sacrifice to cut themselves off from the world, but it is sometimes also a privilege to be protected from its torments. I experienced it, please remember.

Discover the report: A woman on board a submarine

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