France

Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Thierry Burkhard takes office this Thursday – France



It is its nature. Outgoing, always optimistic, smiling, he attracts sympathy. But beware. With him, it’s not go ahead, but follow me. He showed it long ago, a young officer of the Legion of the famous 2nd foreign parachute regiment, the 2nd REP which jumped on Kolwesi and Timbuktu. The lieutenant was thrown into Chad, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, and Côte d’Ivoire.

Since then, Thierry Burkhard has remained a leader of men. Soldiers and captains love this dynamic and enthusiastic general. He is nature, speaks cash but is not fooled by anything. When he visits the 13th demi-brigade of the Foreign Legion installed in Larzac, no posture. This Protestant born in Delle, in the Territoire de Belfort, displays rigor and proximity. On the ground, he encourages, with a voice but with a smile, the legionnaires who sweat on an obstacle course. Here he feels at home. For two years, he commanded this mythical unit of Free France based at the time in Djibouti.

To suffer is not his nature

In the early 2010s, he was called to Paris in the communications team of the Chief of Staff. In Afghanistan, Task Force Lafayette is fighting against the Taliban. Clashes are daily in the province of Kapisa. I find Thierry Burkhard there. He accompanies journalists to French posts, targets of Chinese 107mm rockets fired by the insurgents. He gives us the instructions, with the necessary hindsight. When we have to reach the forward operating base of Tagab, the colonel asks the astonished corporal of our armored vehicle to give up his place behind the machine gun. The Vermont axis is mined and attacked several times a week. Even if he is covered in dust, the officer prefers to have his chest out and retaliate, rather than wiping, behind random armor, the shots of the Taliban hidden between rocks.

To suffer is not his nature. The colonel likes action, the character of a soldier, but his experience interests the national intelligence coordinator at the Presidency of the Republic, of which he becomes the adviser. Brigadier General, he joined the operations planning and conduct center, the CPCO, before taking command. The day-to-day conduct of the wars of France, it is he who leads it.

Adapt to each situation

Logical continuation of a faultless course: he becomes the boss of the Army before Emmanuel Macron appoints him chief of staff of all the armies. He takes up his post a few days before his 57th birthday. The general has some ideas. “To counter a threat of military confrontations even harsher than those we have known over the past twenty years”, he wishes “to raise the level of requirement of operational preparation”. He wants internal simplifications to gain leeway.

But, above all, it is he who is charged by the President with the withdrawal of half, 2,500 men, of the Barkhane device deployed in the Sahel. A delicate operation facing the jihadists in ambush. A maneuver that did not surprise Thierry Burkhard. He had known this option for a long time. Because, in fact, reducing the troops scattered in the desert should not modify, for the moment, the response capacity of the French aircraft based in Niger and the commandos of the Special Forces of Operation Saber established for a long time in Burkina Faso, which benefit from information from US satellites and drones.

The war in Mali will change its face, however. Fewer troops on the ground, which were, in any case, insufficient and exposed to mines, and more reactivity with lightning operations carried out from the air. Strike by surprise, quickly and hard. The DNA of an officer of the Parachute Legion who knows how to adapt to each situation by taking the initiative. A state of mind that corresponds to that of the new boss of the French army.

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