“The French special forces are tip top, they’re up there with the best of them,” says Brooks Tigner, chief policy analyst at Security Europe, a specialist newsletter.

“They also have vast experience in expeditionary forces in West Africa,” he adds. “They really know the territory, the boundaries, the topography and the ethnic problems. They are very well placed.”

Among America’s European allies, only the British can match France’s ability to project significant military force overseas. However, not even they have much experience operating in the string of former French colonies across North and West Africa – where the recent rise of Islamist groups is posing the international community’s latest security threat.

French troops have deployed in more than a dozen African missions during the past two decades. French and British planes took the lead in NATO’s air campaign over Libya in 2011, when French forces also successfully intervened to halt a civil war in Ivory Coast. Three years earlier, they spearheaded a European operation to prevent Sudan’s conflict from spilling over into Chad.

Despite talk of quagmires at the start of both those operations, the French troops achieved their objectives with minimal trouble.