PARIS: France will make the armed soldiers patrolling its streets against jihadi attacks more mobile and their deployment less predictable but will not cut their numbers, ministers said on Thursday.
Some 10,000 soldiers, including 3,000 reservists, have been patrolling the streets of Paris and other French cities since the Islamic State attacks in early 2015 in what is known as "Operation Sentinelle".
But although opinion polls show people are reassured by soldiers on show at home, military chiefs said the operation has overstretched the army, soldiers have become targets for militants and some critics see it as no more than a PR exercise.
"There is no change in the size of the Sentinelle force," Defence Minister Florence Parly said in a news conference. "What is changing, is the way we will organise these troops. We have to become more unpredictable," she said.
Soldiers will continue to patrol the most sensitive sites such as airports, stations and areas popular with tourists, and will intervene during specific sport or cultural events. But other patrols will become more random and reactive, ministers said.
Making the soldiers less static will reduce the risks of them becoming targets and improve troops' morale, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said.
In February last year, a French soldier who was part of Operation Sentinelle shot an Egyptian man armed with machetes who attacked him near the entrance to the Louvre museum shouting Allahu Akbar.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Angus MacSwan)