Pivoting the Stabilization in the Sahel: France and Allies Announce Military Withdrawal from Mali

Written by | Friday, February 18th, 2022

France and its European partners in the anti-jihadist operation in Mali, as well as Canada, have announced a “coordinated withdrawal” of their forces after nearly 10 years fighting an armed unrest, a joint statement said on Thursday (17 January), citing “multiple obstructions” by the country’s ruling military junta. Relations have deteriorated between Paris and Bamako after Mali’s military leaders reneged on an agreement to hold elections this month, instead proposing to retain power until 2025. 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, adding that this is why the allies “decided to commence the coordinated withdrawal of their respective military resources dedicated to these operations from Malian territory”.
On his part, French President Emmanuel Macron has denied that almost decade-long military deployment led by his country has ended in failure. The French leader also “completely” rejected the idea that his country had failed its former colony, adding that “We cannot remain militarily engaged alongside de-facto authorities whose strategy and hidden aims we do not share.” 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 rebels in Mali in 2013 but the violence was never fully quelled, and now new fears have emerged of a rebel push to the Gulf of Guinea. Even after the pull-out from Mali, however, the allies promised to remain engaged in fighting “terrorism” 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.
Meanwhile, the French president hosted on Wednesday (16 February) his European and African counterparts involved in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel to revisit actions to combat terrorism in the conflict-torn region, confirming that the redeployment of French troops in the Sahel is on the horizon. The working dinner brought together the leaders of France’s key allies in the Sahel region — Chad, Mauritania and Niger. Macron’s office previously indicated that it would be a question of “examining the possibility of continuing to act effectively and collectively in Mali” and “reviewing the model of military partnership to better reflect African public opinion”. The status quo is “not possible in a very deteriorated context in Mali, with the seizure of power by a junta, the refusal to apply a timetable for the return to democratic order, which had been announced, and the use of a private Russian militia”, a spokesman to the French government also said. In short, France doesn’t seem to intend to abandon the fight against terrorism in the Sahel but rather wants to revisit the formats of its intervention.

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