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France and EU withdraw troops from Mali, stay in region


President Emmanuel Macron says France will withdraw troops from Mali after nine years but will maintain a military presence in neighboring West African countries

Announcing the move at a Thursday press conference in Paris, Macron accused Mali’s ruling military junta of neglecting the fight against Islamic extremists and said it made sense for France to step down since its role is not is not to replace a sovereign state on the battlefield.

“Victory against terrorism is not possible if it is not supported by the state itself,” said the French leader.

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.

Macron said the French withdrawal would be done “in an orderly fashion” in coordination with the Malian military. France will start by closing military bases in northern Mali, and the withdrawal will take between four and six months, he said.

“We cannot remain involved militarily” alongside the Malian transitional authorities with whom “we do not share the strategy and the objectives”, declared Macron.

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.

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.

Macron hosted a summit in Paris on Wednesday evening to raise the issue with regional and European leaders from countries involved in the Sahel.

Representatives of the coup plotters Mali and Burkina Faso were not invited as both nations were suspended from the African Union following coups.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, who also chairs the African Union, said security and the fight against terrorism were “vital” for Europe and Africa.

Speaking alongside Macron, Sall said he understood the decisions by France and the EU to end their operation in Mali, but was happy that an agreement on a new arrangement had been reached. concluded to ensure a continued presence in the Sahel.

Sall said there was a consensus among European and African leaders during their discussions that the fight against terrorism “should not be the sole business of African countries”.

Macron said the “heart” of the French operation “will no longer be in Mali” but in neighboring Niger, particularly in the border region of Burkina Faso, Macron detailed.

He did not give an estimate of the number of forces that would participate in the new operation.

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 and commit human rights violations in Africa.

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Petrequin reported from Brussels.

ABC News

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