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France announces withdrawal of troops from Mali

France and its allies in the Barkhane anti-jihadist operation in Mali on Thursday announced a "coordinated withdrawal" of their forces because of "multiple obstructions" by its ruling military junta.

France announces withdrawal of troops from Mali
France withdrew its soldiers from Mali, after almost a decade in the country. Photo by Philippe DESMAZES / AFP

In a joint statement, Paris as well as other EU nations and Canada vowed to pursue “joint action against terrorism in the Sahel region, including in Niger and in the Gulf of Guinea”.

READ ALSO Explained: Why France is in Mali?

The decision applies to both France’s Barkhane force in the Sahel and the Takuba European force that Paris had been trying to forge along with its allies.

“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.

The allies therefore “decided to commence the coordinated withdrawal of their respective military resources dedicated to these operations from Malian territory.”

The announcement was made as President Emmanuel Macron is to travel to Brussels on Thursday for a two-day EU-Africa summit, following a 9am press conference at the Elysee on the “engagement of France in the Sahel”.

The Mali deployment has been fraught with problems for France. Of the 53 soldiers killed serving in its Barkhane mission in West Africa, 48 of them died in Mali.

France initially deployed troops against jihadists in Mali in 2013 but the insurgency was never fully quelled, and now new fears have emerged of a jihadist push to the Gulf of Guinea.

Even after the pull-out from Mali, however, the allies vowed to remain engaged in fighting terror in other countries including Niger.

“They agreed nonetheless to continue their joint action against terrorism in the Sahel region, including in Niger and in the Gulf of Guinea,” the statement said.

“They have begun political and military consultations with them with the aim to set out the terms for this shared action by June 2022.”

The announcement of the withdrawal came at a critical time for Macron, just days ahead of a long-awaited declaration from the president that he will stand for a new term in April elections.

It also coincided with Macron seeking to take a lead role in international diplomacy as he presses Russia to de-escalate in the standoff over Ukraine.

Especially with the French elections looming, Macron’s priority is to ensure that any withdrawal does not invite comparisons with the chaotic US departure from Afghanistan last year.

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Macron on Wednesday prepared the ground for the announcement with a dinner bringing together the leaders of France’s key allies in the Sahel region – Chad, Mauritania and Niger.

Officials from Mali and Burkina Faso, which also recently experienced a coup, were not invited to the meeting.

There are a total of 25,000 foreign troops currently deployed in the Sahel region.

They include around 4,300 French soldiers, which under a reduction announced last year are due to fall to around 2,500 in 2023 from a peak of 5,400.

Other forces deployed in Mali are the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA established in 2013 and the EUTM Mali, an EU military training mission that aims to improve the Malian military’s capacity in fighting terrorists.

Some 2,400 French soldiers are deployed in Mali as part of the Barkhane operation as well as the EU Takuba force set up in 2020, which was intended to increase in numbers as French deployment was scaled back.

According to a French source, who asked not to be identified by name, even after the departure France will for a period provide MINUSMA and EUTM with air support and medical back-up.

But Paris’ withdrawal could set the stage for other European powers like Britain or Germany to abandon their roles in the multinational missions.

“The departure of Barkhane and Takuba creates a void,” Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara said Wednesday.

In the Sahel and Gulf of Guinea, “national armies will have to deal with problems on our national territories, and that’s our philosophy”, he told broadcasters RFI and France 24.

Relations between France and Mali have plunged to new lows after the junta led by strongman Assimi Goita refused to stick to a calendar to a return to civilian rule.

The West also accuses Mali of using the services of the hugely controversial Russian mercenary group Wagner to shore up its position, a move that gives Moscow a new foothold in the region.

“It is an inglorious end to an armed intervention that began in euphoria and which ends, nine years later, against a backdrop of crisis between Mali and France,” commented the Le Monde daily.

Member comments

  1. France knows when its time to leave, staying around when your not welcome is never helpful. This withdrawal can be seen as a clear break from military deployments and a return of French soldiers to their families.

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POLITICS

French minister advises: ‘Wear a turtleneck sweater this winter’

France's finance minister has branched out into fashion advice - suggesting that Frenchmen wear "turtleneck sweaters" rather than ties this winter, in order to help save energy.

French minister advises: 'Wear a turtleneck sweater this winter'

Bruno Le Maire, interviewed on Tuesday by France Inter radio, said: “You will no longer see me with a tie but with a turtleneck. And I think it will be very good, it will allow us to save energy.”

He was commenting on the government’s energy-saving plans for the winter, which include limiting the heating in public buildings and government ministries to a maximum of 19C.

Households are also advised not to turn their heating up above 19C, but for private individuals this is voluntary. There are also exceptions to the rules for public buildings such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Le Maire is not the only European politician to give an energy-saving lead through fashion – this summer Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez announced that he would no longer wear ties to the office, although in his case this was to keep cool as Spain imposed limits on air-conditioning.

France’s plan for sobriété enérgetique (energy-saving) will be revealed in full in October, but involves public buildings and businesses making cuts to their energy usage, while households are advised – although not required – to do likewise. France intends to cut its total energy usage by 10 percent this winter in order to avoid the risk of blackouts since Russia has cut off its gas supplies.

REVEALED How likely are blackouts in France this winter?

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