Behind the Mali headlines, an issue of airlift

RAF C17 Transport Aircraft. Photo MoD under an Open Government Licence

By Douglas BarrieJames Hackett and Henry Boyd, Defence and Military Analysis Programme

Two weeks after sending troops to Mali to repel an advance by Islamist rebels, France has enjoyed much tactical success. French and Malian forces have retaken Timbuktu and Gao, and are now reported to have reached the last Islamist stronghold, Kidal. The main challenges ahead include sustaining these gains, bolstering the Malian military and improving governance.

But these tactical achievements come despite a continuing fragility within some French military capabilities: the limited availability of so-called ‘air platform force enablers’ in general, and a paucity of strategic airlift in particular. This general shortfall afflicts many other European countries, and in the case of strategic airlift is only now being fixed.

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Shades of Hama and Grozny in Homs and Idlib

A family escapes from fierce fighting in Idlib, north Syria, Saturday, March 10, 2012. Photo: Freedom House, under a Creative Commons Licence

By Henry Boyd, Research Analyst for The Military Balance

Some ten days after Syrian troops entered the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs, at the end of a month-long assault on the district, government tanks have begun bombarding the northern town of Idlib. The onslaught on Homs by the regime of Bashar al-Assad – which has provoked widespread humanitarian concerns – had eerie parallels with that launched during the reign of Bashar’s father, Hafez, in Hama 30 years ago. Both operations took place in February, both lasted for 27 days, and both involved the use of an arsenal of heavy armour and artillery to brutalise the local population into submission.

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Behind the latest Pentagon cutbacks

By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace,  Henry Boyd, DMAP Research Analyst, and James Hackett, Editor, The Military Balance

Yesterday, the Pentagon made its latest announcement on the US defence budget, outlining proposed force cuts and procurement shifts, and setting the ground for the release of the FY2013 budget request in mid-February. This budget will carry the real detail, and will start the real battles in Congress. US President Barack Obama is trying to save $259 billion over the next five years, as part of a broader plan to cut $487bn over a decade of as part of deficit-reduction efforts. But in this election year, Obama faces the task of carefully cutting the armed forces without providing easy ammunition to the Republican opposition.

Elements of the changes had previously been trailed, most notably when Obama announced new strategic guidance earlier in January, with a shift of focus towards the Asia-Pacific region. The administration plans to reduce defence spending by cutting the size of its armed forces, while maintaining the qualitative edge to prevail in any major conflict in Asia-Pacific. Structuring and sizing the military to conduct ‘two wars’ simultaneously is also being revisited. The aim is now that if ‘engaged in a major combat operation in one theatre, we will have the force necessary to confront an additional aggressor by denying its objectives or imposing unacceptable costs’.

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