Operation Azalee was the name of an expedition by the French armed forces and French special forces which took place in 1995 to remove the provisional government of the Comoros that was led and put into power by famed mercenary Bob Denard.
Denard's fourth Comorian coup, which he called Operation Kaskari, occurred in the early hours of 28 September 1995. Denard and 33 hand-picked mercenaries docked their ship, Vulcain, at Moroni harbour and descended on the city, forcibly removing the figures of the official government before the ill-equipped army was aware. The invaders had been stowing away on Vulcain for more than a month, and were greeted at their arrival by vans supplied by the relatives of former president Ahmed Abdallah.
The French authorities had some advance notice of the coup, as they had before. But unlike Denard's previous coups, the French government opposed the mercenaries and denounced Denard. Knowing this, Denard's first priority was to prevent the likely counter-coup from his homeland. In addition to political pacification measures, such as forming a civilian government, Denard also tried to recreate the 500-strong presidential guard that he had led after his second coup (1978–1989). Denard's popularity during the early 1980s enabled him to mobilise 300 supporters within five days and place them around ports and airports, where they would be most effective to ambush French invaders with submachine guns.
France had advance knowledge of the coup, but refrained from preventative measures until after it had occurred. As news of the coup came, the French government denounced Denard and his mercenaries. Knowing what they would encounter on the islands, the French did not pursue their extreme numerical advantage, instead handing control to the Special Operations Command. Eventually, 400 marines and 200 other special operations experts began cruising the Indian Ocean in patrol boats and a frigate, with superior logisticians and helicopters in tow.
Making landfall at 23:00 on the 3rd of October, the GIGN immediately sought to overawe the mercenary-dissident alliance. The specialist operators had little trouble in taking both airports, the French embassy and Vulcain, capturing many Denard supporters. Denard was outmanned, outgunned and outmechanised by the invaders. Although small defending forces had managed to repel attackers in the past (e.g. Rorke's Drift), this would usually involve some specific advantage in intelligence, training or guerilla tactics. Knowing he had no such advantage, Denard sent the message to the men defending the barracks that they should lay down their arms if engaged by the French. The specialists encircled the barracks in the early hours of the 5th of October, and Denard was arrested at 03:00 and flown to a Parisian jail. President Djohar, who was held captive in the barracks, was flown to Réunion for medical treatment.
This would be the last of four Denard coups in the Comoros, although another coup would occur on the day Denard went to trial. Since independence in 1975, the Comoros has been subject to over 20 attempts to overthrow the government. This one was only a partial failure in all of the objectives—Djohar was refused re-entry into the Comoros until the 1996 elections, which he lost.
Four Comorians died during Operation Azalee, and nine people were wounded.
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