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France to Withdraw from Mali

France and Western allies jointly announced on Thursday that they are coordinating a military withdrawal from Mali, citing obstacles from Mali’s ruling military government that blocked continued efforts to fight terrorism in the country.

The withdrawal will apply to French military resources—also known as France’s Barkhane force—in the Sahel region of Africa. The European Union’s “Takuba” force is also withdrawing. Besides Mali, the Barkhane force is present in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger.

French President Emmanuel Macron accused Mali’s leaders of “neglecting the fight against Islamic extremists and said it was logical for France to withdraw since its role is not to replace a sovereign state on the battlefield,” according to news reports.

France’s military fought armed unrest in the country for almost a decade, beginning when Islamic extremists gained power in Mali, a former French colony.

During a press conference, Macron denied that the deployment had failed. “We cannot remain militarily engaged alongside de-facto authorities whose strategy and hidden aims we do not share,” Macron said, according to Al Jazeera.

In August 2020, Colonel Assimi Goïta assumed power from democratically elected former Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta through a military coup. Goïta cemented his leadership in 2021 by dismissing civilian leaders whovhad established a transitional government, and he was declared interim president.

“Relations have deteriorated between Paris and Bamako since Mali's military leaders reneged on an agreement to hold elections in February,” Deutsche Welle reported. “They instead proposed retaining power until 2025.”

In January, the military government asked Denmark to remove its military force, which was sent to complement EU forces, and at the beginning of February the government expelled France’s ambassador.

Another strain on Mali’s relationship with the EU and other African nations occurred when the military government granted entry to Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization. The EU has accused the organization of human rights abuses and instigating violence.

French military bases in Gao, Gossi, and Menaka in northern Mali are slated to close within four to six months. The Barkhane force is comprised of roughly 4,300 troops in the Sahel, and an estimated 2,750 troops are scheduled for departure from Mali.

Although allies promised to remain engaged in fighting terrorist forces in neighboring countries in the area, experts anticipate that the withdrawal will result in a security vacuum.

“The accelerated pullout, a far quicker and bumpier withdrawal than France had anticipated, could give ground to terrorist groups, which have grown in numbers and reach over the past decade, killing thousands of civilians and displacing millions,” according to The New York Times.