Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) France’s President Emmanuel Macron announced today that his country and its allies will be withdrawing troops from Mali, citing a breakdown in relations with the ruling junta in the country.
“We cannot remain militarily engaged alongside de facto authorities whose strategy and hidden aims we do not share”, Macron told a news conference in announcing the withdrawal. His decision was announced after a Wednesday night meeting of African and Western leaders in Paris, where they discussed plans to continue fighting Islamist militants in the Sahel region.
Mali has served as a primary headquarters for the French anti-Islamist force operating in the Sahel region, but relations between Paris and Bamako soured as the ruling military junta reneged on its pledge to hold a democratic election in February, and proposed remaining in power until 2025.
A French contingent of 2,400 troops based in Mali for the past nine years was joined in 2020 by a several hundred-strong force of European allies. Macron was careful not to label the nine-year mission as a failure, despite the fact that both France and its allies will now be leaving Mali, a hotbed of Islamist activity in the region.
Answering concerns that the Islamist insurgency in the Sahel region would be emboldened by the French withdrawal, Macron announced that neighboring Niger had agreed to host the European forces fighting Islamists. “The heart of this military operation will no longer be in Mali but in Niger”, Macron said.
A succession of coups in the former French colonies of Mali, Chad, and Burkina Faso has weakened France’s alliances in West Africa. Changes of governments also aided jihadist insurgents operating in the wider region and opened the doors to Russian mercenaries to begin operating in those countries.
The French withdrawal will take place “in an orderly manner” over a period of several months. However, the departure of the French troops is likely to impact ongoing UN peacekeeping mission activities in Mali, as well as those of the EU’s EUTM and EUCAP missions, all of which rely on French forces to provide medical, aerial and emergency reinforcement support.