History Today in Military History

How French forces pulled off ‘Operation Barracuda’

Jessica Evans Avatar
Operation Barracuda

In 1979, French forces launched a daring operation called Operation Barracuda. They wanted to help overthrow the oppressive and corrupt regime of President Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic (CAR). The goal was to restore previous president David Dacko. However, this gutsy move had a profound impact on the political landscape of the CAR.

Here is a history of Operation Barracuda

The Ascent of Bokassa

In 1966, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, a former French Army officer, grabbed power in the CAR. He did this by toppling then-leader David Dacko, the country’s first president. Bokassa got to work fast. He abolished the constitution and imposed a dictatorship. Bokassa proclaimed himself Emperor Bokassa I in 1976, transforming the CAR into the Central African Empire. His rule was infamous for extreme human rights abuses, corruption, and excessive spending. Case in point – Bokassa spent $20 million on coronation ceremony – an astronomical amount for an impoverished country.

Initially, France backed Bokassa, viewing him as a regional ally. But as his regime grew more brutal and international outcry intensified, France opted to intervene to defend its regional interests and reinstate stability.

The Strategy and Execution of Operation Barracuda

France covertly planned Operation Barracuda, deploying French military forces, mainly paratroopers from the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment (2e REP), and the French Air Force. The French Ministry of Defense oversaw the mission, with logistical support from the French Army.

On September 20, 1979, French forces commenced Operation Barracuda. They positioned at various African military bases, such as Libreville in Gabon and N’Djamena in Chad, Then, without much fanfare, they swiftly seized key locations like Bangui airport. In fact, they faced minimal resistance from Bokassa’s troops.

During the operation, Bokassa was in Libya, meeting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. French forces foiled his attempt to return to Bangui, and he ultimately sought exile in France and later Ivory Coast.

The Aftermath

Following the overthrow of Bokassa’s regime, French forces reestablished David Dacko as the CAR’s president. Upon his release from house arrest, Dacko disbanded the Central African Empire, returning the country to the Central African Republic.

Some perceived the French intervention as a neocolonial effort to maintain regional control. However, the French government defended its actions as a necessary response to a repressive regime that had lost its legitimacy.

In 1980, a Central African court tried Bokassa in absentia. He was sentenced him to death for various crimes, including murder, embezzlement, and treason. In 1986, he returned to the CAR and was arrested. President Andre Kolingba later commuted Bokassa’s death sentence to life imprisonment, and he died in prison in 1996.

Operation Barracuda exemplifies French military intervention in African politics during the post-colonial era. The mission underscores France’s willingness to take daring action to protect its interests and influence in the region.

Despite the controversial nature of the intervention, Operation Barracuda successfully ousted a brutal dictator. It also played a key role in restoring stability to the CAR. The operation’s rapid and efficient execution allowed for a relatively bloodless transfer of power. This helped minimize the risk of drawn-out conflict and further suffering for the Central African people.

bokassa before operation barracuda
Jean-Bedel Bokassa with Ceaușescu in 1970.


However, Dacko’s second term as president did not bring long-lasting stability or substantial improvements to the CAR’s political and economic situation. His government grappled with numerous challenges, such as corruption, human rights abuses, and a floundering economy. Critics also lambasted Dacko’s administration for its authoritarian tendencies and lack of democratic reforms. In 1981, General André Kolingba staged a coup and overthrew Dacko. This marked yet another turbulent chapter in the Central African Republic’s history.

The consequences of Operation Barracuda prompt questions about the long-term effectiveness of foreign military interventions in fostering lasting political stability. The French intervention succeeded in removing a brutal dictator. But it did not result in a stable, democratic government for the people of the Central African Republic.

In conclusion, Operation Barracuda remains a significant event in the history of the Central African Republic and French military interventions in Africa. The operation highlighted the French government’s readiness to take daring action to defend its interests and ensure regional stability. Although the intervention achieved its immediate objectives, it failed to provide a lasting solution to the political and economic challenges faced by the Central African Republic. The operation serves as a reminder of the complexities surrounding foreign interventions and the difficulties in establishing long-term stability in countries dealing with deep-rooted political and social issues.