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French domestic security Operation Sentinelle to be overhauled

French soldiers of the "Operation Sentinelle" patrolling in front of the Eiffel tower in Paris.
French soldiers of the "Operation Sentinelle" patrolling in front of the Eiffel tower in Paris. ©Ludovic MARIN / AFP

France’s Operation Sentinelle, a domestic military force set up in January 2015 in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, will be significantly revamped. This was announced by the French Interior minister on Tuesday.

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“We are going to redefine the mission in order to make it more mobile. That means we might not just have 7,000 soldiers deployed… at fixed positions, but maybe 3,500 at specific posts and 3,500 deployed in a more flexible way,” the French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said in an interview with BFM TV.

Collomb said it would allow patrols to better secure city-wide events, and festivals like the one in the northern city of Lille. This festival traditionally draws tens of thousands of visitors every September, but it was cancelled last year due to security concerns.

“I think this is going to be the topic of the next Defence Council meeting,” added Collomb, expanding that the gathering of high-ranking defence and security officials is planned for 30 August.

Operation Sentinelle – in place since January 2015, after the attack on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo – involves 7,000 troops and costs an estimated 400,000 euro per day.

Operation a success?

The armed, uniformed soldiers patrol the streets and guard high-risk areas such as tourist sites and religious buildings. But some now question whether it has succeeded in minimising terror attacks on French soil.

Multiple soldiers deployed as part of Operation Sentinelle have themselves been targeted in the past few months by terrorist attacks. One of the latest of which was a car attack against a patrol in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret on 9 August.

Attacks on soldiers

The most recent attack occured in Lyon last night. Around 10pm in the Place d'Arsonval, a 50-year-old man threw himself on a female soldier and attempted to strangle her.

The soldier successfully held him at a distance and he was soon apprehended. Soldiers found medical prescriptions in his pockets.

The Interior Minister said that roughly a third of people currently on radicalisation watch lists have mental health problems, adding that he wanted to see collaboration between police and psychiatrists.

18,000 people living in France are currently flagged by French security services as being at risk of radicalisation, including 12,000 who are under active surveillance. “That means that the network is vast,” Collomb said.

Collomb also said that a plan to create new neighborhood policing would be rolled out in stages as of January 2018, beginning with specific urban areas “that we think have serious problems.”

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