President Emmanuel Macron says France will withdraw its troops from Mali but maintain a military presence in neighbouring West African nations. Announcing the move during a Thursday news conference in Paris, Macron said, “We cannot remain militarily involved” alongside Malian transitional authorities with whom “we don’t share the strategy and goals.”
France has about 4,300 troops in the Sahel region, including 2,400 in Mali. The so-called Barkhane force is also involved in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. European leaders simultaneously announced Thursday that troops from the European-led military task force known as Takuba also would withdraw from Mali. The Takuba task force is composed of several hundred special forces troops from about a dozen European countries, including France.
Tensions have grown between Mali, its African neighbours and the European Union, especially after the West African country’s transitional government allowed Russian mercenaries to deploy in its territory.
French forces have been active since 2013 in Mali, where they intervened to drive Islamic extremists from power. But the insurgents regrouped in the desert and began attacking the Malian army and its allies.
Macron said support for civilians in Mali would continue, but he blamed the junta now ruling the country for its decision to hire a private Russian military contractor known as the Wagner Group that the EU accuses of fomenting violence and committing human rights abuses in Africa. Macron said a coalition of allies will remain present in Sahel and the Guinea Gulf to counter actions from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
He said the fight against terrorism in the region requires “steadiness and tenacity.” The announcements followed Macron’s Wednesday night meeting with African and European leaders involved in the fight against Islamic extremists in the Sahel region. The Mali and Burkina Faso coup leaders were not invited since both nations were suspended from the African Union.