The Slatest

Retired French Military Official Had Warned Last Month of Attacks Like Friday’s

Flowers and candles are placed in tribute outside Le Carillon bar on Nov. 14, 2015, the day after a deadly attack in Paris in which at least 120 people have been killed.

Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images

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Retired French colonel Michel Goya worked in the cabinet of the Chief of Defense Staff. A Ph.D. in contemporary history, he teaches military war history at Sciences Po in Paris, is the author of several books on the history of modern war, and is interviewed regularly in the media. On Oct. 25, barely a few weeks ago, Col. Goya wrote a post on his blog titled “The Day After the Big Attack,” in which he coolly explained why massive attacks like the one that happened Friday night in Paris are going to occur.

According to Goya, two recent attacks—the Mohammed Merah attack of 2012 (in which Merah murdered three French paratroopers, a rabbi, and three Jewish schoolchildren over 11 days in the south of France) and the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015—“provoked a lot of emotion,” but “are still not much in relation to the dozens of massive bombings and dynamic attacks that have hit various countries around the world since 2001… This will very likely happen on our soil in the months or years to come. (Emphasis added by Slate.)

These attacks could take “the form of a commando that came from Libya setting off autonomous killing cells in the heart of Marseille or of a team of snipers hitting Parisian crowds one New Year’s Eve … or an entirely different manner, provided that it be shocking,” he writes.

But Col. Goya takes care above all in his blog post to demonstrate that, according to him, France is not prepared to engage a genuine strategy to respond to such attacks. “It remains to be known what will happen the day after. What will be the response to something that, even more than January, will look truly like the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States?”  

According to Goya, “A strategy requires the definition of a path toward victory and the end of the war, and this path, we can hardly see it.” Enumerating the measures taken after the attacks of January, he estimates that they will not be measure up to the stakes of the situation:

The sword is thus already drawn but to what effect? We have engaged two brigades in the streets of the city in order to reassure the French a bit; we are attempting to restrain armed North African organizations with 3,000 men and some limited aircraft in the face of a very fragile subcontinent; the size, seen from Raqqa, of our counter-jihadism efforts singularly lacks any punch; and we are meanwhile at our maximum.

These procrastinations can be seen, according to the colonel, in the vocabulary employed by the executive branch since January: a “major engagement” more so than a “war,” “terrorism” more so than “jihadism,” etc. As if the threat could not be precisely identified nor the enemy clearly designated.

Militarily and internationally, “we must explain why we have permanently reduced these means, why we have lowered our guard while we did not cease to say, including in official documents, that the world that surrounds us was always more dangerous.” Domestically, the consequences of such an attack would shake the equilibrium of French society, such that no one could know the result:

“We must handle the crisis otherwise than by slogans, toll-free numbers, and an antiracist ‘designation.’ We must handle the anger from all sides, and I don’t see very well how that will evolve.”

Translated from French by Abby McIntyre.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the Paris attacks.