Troops from 13 African countries that took part in the French-led war against al Qaeda-linked extremists in Mali marched with the French military during the Bastille Day parade in Paris to honour their role in the conflict.

UN troops in blue berets who are helping to stabilise the west African nation of Mali paraded with thousands of other soldiers down the Champs-Elysees Avenue in France’s annual tribute to military might.

It marks the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789, by angry Paris crowds that helped spark the French Revolution.

France honoured Malian troops on Bastille Day as they joined the parade along the Champs Elysees

France honoured members of the UN stabilisation force to Mali on Bastille Day as they joined the parade along the Champs Elysees


Soldiers of the Aubagne's 1st Foreign Regiment, the French Foreign Legion, marching on Sunday

Soldiers from various French regiments, including the Aubagne’s 1st Foreign Regiment, pictured, marched along with the African troops who joined together to repel an Islamist insurgency in Mali

Despite the triumphal display, which included flyovers by fighter jets, tanks and giant trucks mounted with land-to-air defence systems, the realities in Mali suggest that President Francois Hollande’s military intervention has had mixed results.

The mission he launched in January helped the Malian government retake control of much of the country from al Qaeda-linked extremists who had seized northern Mali and threatened the capital.

The nation is to hold elections on July 28, but tensions involving rebel Tuaregs in the north linger, along with political instability.

Today’s events, however, focused on the positive.

‘It’s a victory that was won,’ Mr Hollande said in an interview after the parade with the France 2 and TF-1 in the garden of the presidential Elysee Palace. ‘Look at what happened. It was a victory for Africa, a victory against terrorism, and pride that we must have.’

Soldiers of the Calvi's 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment, France's Foreign Legion, on the Champs Elysees

Soldiers of the Calvi’s 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment, France’s Foreign Legion, attended the traditional military parade on the Champs Elysees


French students from the military school Polytechnique march

French students from the military school Polytechnique joined the parade which celebrates the start of the French Revolution in 1789.

He said earlier the presence of African troops in Paris on the French national day was a ‘tribute to those who actively helped to banish terrorism from the Malian territory’.

Referring to trips he’s made to Africa, including a February visit to Mali, four weeks after the start of the French intervention, Mr Hollande said, ‘I was saluted in Africa, not for what I said but for what I did.’

He noted that some extremists once lodged in Mali escaped into southern Libya and other neighbouring countries. He said those nations need support, ‘but we won’t make war everywhere.’

The French military display team, Patrouille de France, streaked over Paris taking in some of the main landmarks

The military display team, Patrouille de France, streaking over Paris taking in the Pyramide du Louvre.

Mr Hollande oversaw the display of military might that France rolls out each year on Bastille Day with Mali interim President Dioncounda Traore and UN chief Ban Ki-moon at his sides.

Defence ministers from the African nations represented in the parade also were present.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said before the parade that the display is ‘the mark of a solidarity that concretely expressed itself in Mali, and of a common destiny, even beyond the limits of continents, of which we have every reason to be proud.’

But some critics say the Mali operation and African presence in the parade reflect France’s ambiguous and sometimes patronising relations with the continent – especially with former colonies such as Mali – often referred to as Francafrique.

The French non-governmental organisation Survie, which is fighting against neocolonialism, condemned ‘the self-proclaimed role of gendarme of Africa that France claimed in Mali’.

The riders of the Republican Guard passing by the Arc de Triomphe on the Place de l'Etoile

The riders of the Republican Guard passing by the Arc de Triomphe on the Place de l’Etoile

Soldiers of the 35th parachute artillery regiment took part in the annual parade in the strong sunshine

Soldiers of the 35th parachute artillery regiment took part in the annual parade in the strong sunshine

‘This parade gives a scent of victory to a military operation which is far from being reasonably presented like that, given the numerous shadows that surround it and the remaining uncertainties concerning its outcome,’ said Fabrice Tarrit, the president of the association.

The critics also include Africans.

‘Knowing the history of France, especially French armies with Africa, it doesn’t sound good,’ said Senegalese rapper Keyti, whose real name is Cheikh Sene, 40.

‘This last decade we’ve been trying to be really independent from the French army, especially since they had camps in certain countries around Africa,’ he said. ‘And now with what happened in Mali, what’s still happening there, it’s like they found another way to come in.’

Around 50 Malian troops marched in formation Sunday followed by soldiers from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Chad and Togo.

They were followed by troops from the UN stabilisation mission in Mali, which took over the French-led military operation on July 1. Some French soldiers who participated in the Mali operation, called Serval, also marched, and aircraft used in Mali, notably to provide cover for ground troops, were featured in the air display.

France had more than 4,000 troops at the height of the campaign, and is now gradually reducing that. France will keep about 1,000 soldiers in Mali after the end of 2013.

In all, 4,800 troops marched in front of the presidential stage, along with 241 horses, 265 vehicles and 58 planes.

Bringing up the rear was an array of 35 helicopters, used in wartime and for civilian missions.

Precision parachutists landed in front of the presidential stand to close the parade.