President Emmanuel Macron has said France will withdraw its troops from Mali but maintain a military presence in neighboring West African countries. Announcing the decision at a Thursday press conference in Paris, Macron said: “We cannot remain involved militarily” alongside the Malian transitional authorities with whom “we do not share the strategy and the objectives”. France has about 4,300 soldiers in the Sahel region, including 2,400 in Mali. The so-called Barkhane force is also present in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. European leaders simultaneously announced on Thursday that troops from the European-led military task force known as Takuba would also withdraw from Mali. The Takuba task force is made up of several hundred special forces soldiers from a dozen European countries, including France. Tensions have risen between Mali, its African neighbors and the European Union, particularly after the West African country’s transitional government allowed Russian mercenaries to deploy on its territory.
French forces have been active since 2013 in Mali, where they intervened to oust Islamist extremists from power. But the insurgents regrouped in the desert and began to attack the Malian army and its allies.
Macron said support for civilians in Mali would continue, but he blamed the junta that currently rules the country for its decision to hire a private Russian military contractor known as the Wagner Group which the EU accuses of fomenting violence. violence and commit human rights violations in Africa. Macron said a coalition of allies would remain present in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea to counter the actions of al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
He said the fight against terrorism in the region requires “persistence and tenacity”. The announcements followed Macron’s Wednesday evening meeting with African and European leaders involved in the fight against Islamic extremists in the Sahel region. The coup plotters in Mali and Burkina Faso were not invited as both nations were suspended from the African Union.
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