Invited to Mali to fight terrorism, Parisian troops quickly fell out of favor with the African nation’s government
The last French soldiers left the Gao military base in northern Mali on Monday, ending a nine-year counter-terrorism mission led by France in its former colony. While French troops were invited to Mali to fight Islamism, relations with the government of the African country subsequently deteriorated.
“Today at 1 p.m. Paris time, the last contingent of the Barkhane force still on Malian territory crossed the border between Mali and Niger,” he added. read a statement from the French army, referring to Operation Barkhane, the code name for its Malian mission.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced the end of the operation last summer and began withdrawing troops in February.
The French military initially deployed to Mali in 2013 at the request of the Malian government. After pushing Islamist forces out of the northern half of the country, the army launched Operation Barkhane a year later, expanding its operation into Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger, all former colonies French.
However, the initial successes of the operation were never replicated. Jihadist attacks in Mali intensified throughout 2016 and 2017, with terrorism becoming more common across the Sahel region in the following years. Anti-French sentiment grew in Mali, and France’s refusal to allow negotiations between Sahelian leaders and insurgents on their lands only deepened the rift between French troops and their African hosts.
Two military coups in Mali in 2020 and 2021 sealed the fate of the French operation, with Colonel Assimi Goita ordering the French to leave after he seized power in 2021. Amid the apparent failure of French forces to to suppress jihadism in Mali, Goita then invited a private Russian paramilitary group to help his army in the fight against terrorism.
With France and the United States sanctioning Mali following the coups, Goita turned to Russia. Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop met his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow in May, with Lavrov saying they had discussed deliveries of wheat, fertilizer and petroleum products to Mali.
That same month, Mali withdrew from its defense agreements with France, citing “gross violations” of its sovereignty by French forces.
Despite Mali’s withdrawal, France “remains committed to the Sahel, the Gulf of Guinea and the Lake Chad region with all partners committed to stability and the fight against terrorism”, read a statement from the French presidency on Monday.
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