France and its allies announced a coordinated military withdrawal from Mali on Thursday. France sent troops to push occupying militants out of northern Mali in 2013 and has been fighting insurgents alongside Malian troops ever since. Analysts say the pullout could have serious implications for security in Mali and across the region.
A statement from France, in conjunction with the European Takuba task force led by France and Canada, cited “multiple obstructions by the Malian transitional authorities”.
He also said that “the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met” to continue to fight terrorism. Malian officials did not comment on the statement.
This announcement follows growing tensions between France and Mali. Mali’s acting Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga has accused France of using its military mission against Islamist militants to divide the African country. He provided no evidence to back up his claims and France did not respond to the charges.
French forces arrived in 2013 to retake control of northern Mali from the Islamists as part of Operation Serval, which was later replaced by the counter-insurgency Operation Barkhane.
Malians warmly welcomed the arrival of the French army, but as violence and instability increased in the years that followed, approval of the French military presence dropped sharply.
In the streets of Bamako, Malians say they are happy to see France leave. Soumanou Koné spoke during a short break from work as a bank officer. He says that since Barkhane started – since Serval started and moved to Barkhane – insecurity has increased in Mali.
Boubacar Salif Traoré is a security consultant based in Bamako. Speaking via a messaging app from the capital, he says that even if the Malian army steps up its efforts and training, managing the insecurity on its own will be a challenge.
Traore says the Malian army is rebuilding and the troops are ready to advance on the ground. But he notes that Mali’s territory is huge – two and a half times the size of France. So it will be very difficult for the Malian army to face this situation alone, he said. He also asserts that the instability in Mali is not only a pressing problem for the countries of the Sahel, but for all of West Africa.
Andrew Lebovich is a Sahel analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Speaking from Berlin, he spoke of challenges ahead with the Malian military’s ability to confront Islamists, including JNIM, an al-Qaeda-aligned militant group, and ISGS, the Islamic State of Great Sahara.
“There has recently been a Malian military offensive in some places, apparently in conjunction with Russian cooperation. This has had limited impact so far. There has been a certain return to calm in certain areas, but at the same time, activists, notably associated with JNIM but also with ISGS, are still present, they are still active, and nothing has really changed at a Deeper.
France said it would continue to fight terrorism in the Sahel. President Emmanuel Macron said in an address from Paris on Thursday morning that European forces will be moved to neighboring Niger.
Kars de Bruijne leads the Sahel program at the Dutch Clingendael Institute. He says fighting insecurity in the Sahel from neighboring countries without cooperating with the Malian authorities will be complicated.
“Wherever you go, if you go to Burkina, Niger, Benin or Abidjan, you will have to have some kind of collaboration with the Malians. Because it’s not… it’s all cross-border conflicts. This is the big problem, so even if they are going to go somewhere, how are they going to continue to work with the Malian authorities? Because you need it.
Macron said the military withdrawal could take between four and six months.
France and several other Western governments have expressed concern about Mali’s possible cooperation with Russian mercenaries, which the Malian government has denied.