France announces military withdrawal from Mali | News | DW | 17.02.2022

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France announces military withdrawal from Mali

France and its allies in the anti-jihadi operation in Mali have announced a "coordinated withdrawal" of their forces. A joint statement cited "multiple obstructions" by the country's ruling military junta.

Watch video 01:57

France pulls counter-terrorist troops out of Mali

France and its European partners in the fight against Islamist insurgents in Mali, as well as Canada, said they would begin a coordinated withdrawal of military resources, a joint statement said on Thursday.

Relations have deteriorated between Paris and Bamako since Mali's military leaders reneged on an agreement to hold elections in February. They instead proposed retaining power until 2025.

What did the allies say?

The statement was issued by countries deploying troops alongside France's Barkhane counter-terrorism force, which includes Canada, and the Takuba mission, which includes some 14 European nations.

"Due to multiple obstructions by the Malian transitional authorities, Canada and the European States operating alongside Operation Barkhane and within the Task Force Takuba deem that the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali," the statement said.

It added that the countries had "decided to commence the coordinated withdrawal of their respective military resources dedicated to these operations from Malian territory." 

French President Emmanuel Macron told a press conference that the attitudes and "hidden aims" of Mali's ruling junta had forced France to pull out from its former colony.

"We cannot remain militarily engaged alongside de-facto authorities whose strategy and hidden aims we do not share," Macron told reporters. The French president said he "completely" rejected the idea that France had failed in its mission.

He said the heart of the French military operation would now be in Niger, and added that France's Sabre special forces would remain posted in Burkina Faso, where a military junta is also in charge.

Macron also said the remaining forces would provide help for countries in the Gulf of Guinea.

"These states are increasingly exposed to efforts by terrorist groups to implant themselves in their territory," he said.

Watch video 00:11

Macron: France doesn't share 'strategy and hidden aims' of Mali's ruling junta

Delina Goxho, researcher on the Sahel region at the Scuola Normale Superiore, told DW that the explusion of the French ambassador to Mali, coupled with growing hostility from Mali's military junta towards the Danish contingent, had proved decisive. She added that the move would cause a vacuum in security in the short term.

Other missions in doubt

Germany's Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said the continuation of the EU's EUTM training mission in Mali was now far less likely. "I have to say that I am very skeptical about whether EUTM will see an extension of the mandate," Lambrecht said, adding that there were questions about who was actually being trained.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was waiting for assurances from Mali's junta while deciding the future for the bloc's military and civilian training missions.

"I sent a mission to Mali, in order to check with Malian authorities, under which conditions and under which guarantees we could consider the possibility of keeping or not keeping our training mission work there," Borrell said. 

"The answer will come in the next days," he said.

Olivier Salgado, the spokesman for the MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali, told the AFP news agency that "there is bound to be an impact" on its operation in light of the planned French withdrawal, citing a "specific and complementary role."

Infografik Internationale Truppen in Mali EN

Why are Western troops in Mali?

The Western mission to Mali initially began as one designed to crush Islamic jihadis in the region. It has deteriorated considerably since jihadis have regrouped, aided by two coups in the former French colony since May 2020.

Currently, relations between Paris and the military government in Mali — which assumed and consolidated power in the coups — are at an all-time low.

Recently Mali's military junta indefinitely postponed scheduled elections, irking Western partners.

Another source of controversy is the presence of some 1,000 mercenaries from the Russian private security group Wagner. They arrived after the French began to hand over power at military bases to Malian forces.

France has some 4,300 troops in the Sahel region as part of the Barkhane force, which is also involved in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. Of those, some 2,400 were stationed in Mali.

The deployment to Mali has been fraught with problems for France with 48 of the 53 soldiers killed in its Barkhane mission having died there.

Germany has some 1,300 troops deployed in Mali, as part of the EUTM and the UN's MINUSMA mission.

rc/rt (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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