PARIS — France, alongside its European and international partners, announced Thursday the end of its nine-year counter-insurgency military operation in Mali, amid growing tensions with the country’s military junta.
“Due to the multiple obstructions of the Malian transitional authorities, Canada and the European states operating alongside [French] Operation Barkhane and within Task Force Takuba [a European multinational band of special operations forces] … have decided to begin the coordinated withdrawal of their respective military resources dedicated to these operations from Malian territory,” reads a joint press release issued by the Elysée.
The decision came after a dinner at the Elysee Palace on Wednesday evening with leaders from African countries, countries active in the Sahel region and EU representatives.
The statement said France and its partners “will continue their joint action against terrorism in the Sahel region, including in Niger and the Gulf of Guinea”, and will define 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.
About 3,500 French soldiers are currently in Mali and more than 4,000 in the wider region, according to the Elysee. France has had a presence in the Sahel since 2013, when then-President François Hollande decided to deploy troops first to Mali and then to the wider Sahel region comprising Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger to fight against jihadist terrorism.
Some 53 French soldiers have been killed in the Sahel, including 48 in Mali, since the start of the operation, whose support has weakened in recent months. French troops now also face mercenary soldiers from the Russian Wagner Group. The situation in Mali has worsened in recent weeks when the government expelled the French ambassador; thousands of people took to the streets of the capital Bamako to celebrate this movement and protest against the French presence there.
Mali’s military junta has also reneged on earlier commitments to hold elections and restore civilian rule following an August 2020 coup against elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.
“The political, operational and legal conditions are no longer in place to effectively pursue their current military commitment in the fight against terrorism in Mali,” the French statement said.
The EU intends to maintain its presence in Mali, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said on Wednesday.