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France reduces military presence in Sahel

July 9, 2021

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced the withdrawal of more than 2,000 troops and the closure of military bases in Mali.

 A French soldier from Operation Barkhane in Mali
French troops have been deployed to the Sahel largely to help fight against Islamist insurgentsImage: Reuters/B. Tessier

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that more than 2,000 troops from an anti-extremism force will leave Africa's Sahel region starting within the next few months.  

Macron announced last month that such a reduction would take place, saying that the current operation was not in tune with the region's present requirements.

France currently has 5,000 troops in the region sent there to help stabilize the security situation in the face of a largely Islamist threat.

What will the withdrawal involve?

During a press conference following talks with African leaders, Macron said France would start closing its bases in northern Mali in the second half of 2021, a process to be completed by early 2022.

He said French troops would first be moved further south to focus on the restive border area where Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger meet before the reduction in troop numbers began. He gave no exact time frame.

In the future, France's military presence will focus on neutralizing extremist operations and helping train local armed forces, Macron said.

"There will also a dimension of reassurance ... to remain permanently ready to intervene rapidly in support of partner forces,'' he said.  

President Emmanuel Macron
Macron, seen here in Brussels, insisted that France was not abandoning its African partnersImage: John Thys/AP/picture alliance

Why have French troops been in the region?

France, as the former colonial power in the Sahel region, has had troops in Mali since 2013. They aided local forces to oust Islamist extremists who had seized towns in the country's north.

Although their presence has been welcomed by governments in the Sahel, there has been some criticism likening it to a vestige of colonialism.

The operation has anyway been only partially successful, with militants continuing to carry out attacks on both soldiers and civilians.

A series of massacres in villages in the region at the border of Niger and Mali has claimed hundreds of lives since January.

Some experts say Paris has grown frustrated with the lack of any ultimate success and with the political turmoil still prevailing, particularly in Mali.

What do African leaders say?

Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum, who spoke at Macron's side during the press conference said that France should continue giving support to local forces, but only as needed.

"The main thing is that France maintains the principle of its support, its cooperation and support for the armed forces of our different countries," Bazoum said. "We need France to give us what we don't have. We don't need France to give us what we already have," he added. 
tj/rt (AP, Reuters)