After nearly a decade of fighting Islamist insurgents in the country, France has announced it is withdrawing troops from Mali. French forces will be redeployed elsewhere in the Sahel. In a joint statement from France and 14 countries comprising the international “Takuba” counterterrorism task force deployed to Mali, it was announced that:
“Due to multiple obstructions by the Malian transitional authorities, Canada and the European States operating alongside Operation Barkhane and within the Task Force Takuba deem that the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali.”
France currently maintains around 5,000 troops in the region as part of “Operation Barkhane” with nearly half of these being based in northern Mali. By 2023, Macron hopes to lower this number to around 3,000. The International “Takuba” Task Force is comprised of a few-hundred soldiers of which two-fifths are French.
The decision follows the collapse of democracy in the region with Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea and Mali all experiencing coups within the past year. Mali’s coup has proven to be the most problematic for France as the new military-led government has turned its back on the French and has instead embraced support from Russia. Demands by the Mali government have already led to Danish special forces withdrawing from the country while reports indicate that Russian military personnel and private military contractors tied to the Wagner Group have become an increasingly common site in the war-torn country.
The divide between the Mali coup government and the French grew significantly over the course of January. 11 January saw France, the US and EU back the trade embargo imposed on Mali two days earlier by the Economic Community of West African States. On 27 January, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian sharply criticized the Mali coup government for its decision to expel Danish troops. Mali then used this as a pretext to expel the French ambassador from the country.