PARIS — France alongside its European and international partners announced Thursday the end of its nine-year military counter-insurgency operation in Mali, amid growing tensions with the country’s military junta.
“Due to multiple obstructions by the Malian transitional authorities, Canada and the European States operating alongside [French] Operation Barkhane and within the Task Force Takuba [a European multinational band of special operations forces] … decided to commence the coordinated withdrawal of their respective military resources dedicated to these operations from Malian territory,” a joint statement published by the Elysée reads.
The decision came after a dinner at the Elysée on Wednesday evening with leaders from African countries, countries active in the Sahel region and EU representatives.
The statement says France and its partners will “continue their joint action against terrorism in the Sahel region, including in Niger and in the Gulf of Guinea,” and outline a new strategy for the region by June 2022.
The decision to withdraw from Mali marks a major setback in Paris’ long-term efforts to fight terrorist groups in the region.
Approximatively 3,500 French soldiers are currently in Mali and more than 4,000 are in the wider region, according to the Elysée. France has been present in the Sahel since 2013, when then-President François Hollande decided to deploy troops first in Mali, then in the broader Sahel region including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger to fight jihadist terrorism.
Some 53 French soldiers have been killed in the Sahel, including 48 in Mali, since the beginning of the operation, for which support has waned in the past few months. French troops are now also confronted with mercenary soldiers from Russia’s Wagner Group. The situation in Mali escalated in recent weeks when the government expelled the French ambassador; thousands took to the streets of the capital Bamako to celebrate that move and protest against the French presence there.
Mali’s military junta also went back on previous commitments to hold elections and restore civilian rule following a coup in August 2020 against elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.
“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 French statement reads.
The EU intends to maintain its presence in Mali, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday.