2004 French–Ivorian clashes
|Ivorian-French clashes of 2004|
|Part of the Ivorian Civil War and Opération Licorne|
Map (click to enlarge)
|Commanders and leaders|
|Laurent Gbagbo||Jacques Chirac|
|Casualties and losses|
Entire air force destroyed
1 aircraft damaged
|1 US citizen killed|
In 2004, an armed conflict took place between France and the West African nation of Côte d'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast). On 6 November 2004, Ivorians launched an air attack on French peacekeepers in the northern part of Côte d'Ivoire who were stationed there as part of Operation Unicorn (French: Opération Licorne), the French military operation in support of the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI). French military forces subsequently clashed with Ivorian troops and government-loyal mobs, destroying the entire Ivorian Air Force. Those incidents were followed by massive anti-French protests in Côte d'Ivoire.
In 2002, a civil war broke out in Côte d'Ivoire between Ivorian military and other forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the Ivorian president since 2000, and rebel forces identified with the Forces Nouvelles de Côte d'Ivoire. Although most of the fighting ended by late 2004, the country remained split in two, with a rebel-held north and a government-held south.
Ivorian attack on French forces
Gbagbo ordered air strikes on Ivorian rebels. On 6 November 2004, at least one Ivorian Sukhoi Su-25 bomber attacked a French peacekeeping position in the rebel town of Bouaké at 1 pm, killing nine French soldiers and wounding 31. An American development worker, reported to have been a missionary, was also killed. The Ivorian government claimed the attack on the French was unintentional, but the French insisted that the attack had been deliberate.
Retaliation by the French and subsequent riots
Several hours after the attack French President Jacques Chirac ordered the destruction of the Ivorian air force and the seizure of Yamoussoukro airport. The French military performed an overland attack on the airport, destroying two Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft and three helicopter gunships. Two more military helicopters were destroyed during combat in the skies over Abidjan. France then flew in 300 troops and put three Dassault Mirage F.1 jet fighters based in nearby Gabon on standby.
On 7 November, armed mobs of Ivorians loyal to the government took to the streets of Abidjan to protest against France and attacked a French school and army base. Crowds of young Ivorians attacked a residential district made up of French citizens, which had to be evacuated by airlift as mobs burst into their apartment buildings. Armored cars carried armed protesters to join the fight, and French helicopters flew over Abidjan and dropped concussion grenades, while French armored vehicles carried troops to put down the riots. Protesters erected burning roadblocks, and French gunboats were positioned beneath the bridges. Fighting continued, and, by Sunday, French forces were still not in control of the city. At Abidjan's airport, French and Ivorian troops exchanged fire, and a French military plane was reportedly damaged. As the riots in the streets continued, French soldiers opened fire on Ivorian rioters; the French Government stated that 20 were killed while Ivorian authorities placed the death toll at 60.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier stated President Gbagbo was "personally responsible for what has happened", and declared that the violence was "unexplainable, unjustifiable". Ivorian National Assembly President Mamadou Koulibaly told state television: "Ivory Coast has become an overseas territory in Jacques Chirac’s head".
Côte d'Ivoire had begun rebuilding its air force with help from Belarus and Ukraine a year after the French attack. A 2014 publication shows that two Sukhoi Su-25s were almost repaired at Abidjan Airport but not put back into service. This is due to the current arms embargo, which has left all four aircraft stored at said location, along with two Mil Mi-24 helicopters. The assorted equipment of the aircraft were discovered at the former residence of Félix Houphouët-Boigny by Alassane Ouattara in April 2011, at the end of the post-electoral conflict which saw Gbagbo finally ousted.
French judge Brigitte Raynaud issued an international arrest warrant for the two pilots suspected of the bombing, Patrice Ouei and Ange-Magloire Gnanduillet, in January 2006. An Ivorian military court was also seeking to find former defence minister Rene Amani and the former head of the loyalist army, Mathias Doue, over the bombing. By 2008, relations between Côte d'Ivoire and France had returned to normal, with French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner being the first French foreign minister to visit since 2004.
- "Ivory Coast seethes after attack", BBC News, 7 November 2004.
- Ann Talbot, "Ivory Coast: protests erupt vs. French military strikes", World Socialist Web Site, 9 November 2004.
- "French foreign minister's visit is first since 2003". France 24. 14 June 2008. Archived from the original on 20 May 2011. Retrieved 7 April 2011.
- "Côte d'Ivoire rebuilding air force, says UN report". Mg.co.za. 14 November 2005. Retrieved 7 April 2011.
- "Judge issues international arrest warrants for Ivorians suspected of bombing French base". Accessmylibrary.com. 9 January 2006. Retrieved 7 April 2011.
- International Press Clips UNMIL
- "Kouchner vows support for winning candidate". Mobile.france24.com. 15 June 2008. Retrieved 7 April 2011.
- French Unleash Force Against Chaos in Ivory Coast (Washington Post)
- Bloody Intervention in Côte d'Ivoire
- Cote d'Ivoire since 2002
- (German) Sow, Adama: Ethnozentrismus als Katalysator bestehender Konflikte in Afrika südlich der Sahara, am Beispiel der Unruhen in Côte d`Ivoire at: European University Center for Peace Studies (EPU), Stadtschleining 2005
- Pictures of French soldiers posing in front of captured Ivorian aircraft and weapons