WORLD France, European allies to start military withdrawal from Mali


France, European allies to start military withdrawal from Mali


23:05, February 17, 2022

Asked if the campaign had been a failure, French President Emmanuel Macron said: "I completely reject this term." (Photo: Agencies)

France and its allies will begin their military withdrawal from Mali after almost a decade of fighting armed unrest in the Sahel.

However, President Emmanuel Macron insisted that despite an increasingly bloody insurgency across the West African region, the military pullback did not mean France's campaign had been a failure.

A statement from Paris and its European and African allies released on Thursday said "multiple obstructions" by the ruling military government meant the conditions were no longer in place "to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali."

Relations between Paris and Bamako have spiraled since the takeover of the ruling military government's led by Assimi Goita, who has refused to keep to an agreed schedule on Mali's return to civilian rule, proposing instead to hold power until 2025.

At the end of January, Mali expelled France's ambassador after Frances's foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian referred to the new government's rule as "out of control" and illegitimate.

Bamako has also allegedly deployed Russian private military contractors, which some European countries have said is incompatible with their mission.

"We cannot remain militarily engaged alongside de-facto authorities whose strategy and hidden aims we do not share," Macron told a news conference in Paris on Thursday morning.

Around 25,000 foreign troops are currently deployed in the Sahel region of West Africa, including around 4,300 French soldiers.

Leaving Mali, where France and its allies have been fighting jihadist and other militias since 2013, has raised fears of an emboldened insurgency across the Sahel region.

However, at the request of their African partners, according to Thursday's statement, the French-headed military campaign will "continue their joint action against terrorism in the Sahel region."

Macron said neighboring Niger had already agreed to host European forces fighting armed groups in the region.

"The heart of this military operation will no longer be in Mali but in Niger," the president said, adding that the withdrawal would take four to six months.

He also said the remaining forces would provide further assistance for countries in the Gulf of Guinea.

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

When asked if the French pull out from Mali meant the counter-terrorism campaign had been a failure, the president said: "I completely reject this term."

Mali has been affected by conflict since a separatist uprising rocked the country's northern regions in 2012, leading to the French-headed intervention and the spawning a multitude of armed groups who continue to seek control in the region.

The fighting has now spilled over into neighbouring countries, including Burkina Faso and Niger, where the deteriorating security situation is causing a humanitarian crisis. This is where France plans to refocus the bulk of its troops.

Paris had already announced earlier in 2022 that it would be withdrawing more than 2,000 soldiers from the Sahel region amid increased instability in Mali, with two coups in under a year leading to Goita being sworn in as the country's interim president.

Diplomats have warned that the military power vacuum in the area could lead to spiralling violence, giving fresh impetus to migration from West Africa to Europe while also threatening Western mining operations in the region.

Source(s): Reuters

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