NINE years after first intervening in Mali to fight jihadism, France is likely to remove troops to neighbouring Sahel states amid escalating tension between Bamako and Paris.
The statement by the French foreign affairs minister came a day before President Emmanuel Macron is to meet Sahelian leaders from Niger, Chad and Mauritania.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, said if the conditions in Mali are no longer favourable to continue the fight against terrorism, France will move to neighbouring countries.
However, he also stressed that France is not leaving the Sahel.
‘The President of the Republic [Emmanuel Macron] wants us to reorganise but we are not leaving!’ he said on France 5 TV channel on 14 February.
He spoke a few hours after a video meeting with his European counterparts.
Le Drian indicated that other Sahel states have expressed the wish to host French and European troops.
‘We went there at the request of the Malians who asked us to come fight the jihadists. Otherwise, with all the Al Qaeda affiliated groups, Mali would have become a terrorist state, a caliphate.
‘And this was avoided because we intervened,’ he said.
That was in 2013. By now, jihadist groups linked to Al Qaeda and Daesh have spread beyond Mali to other Sahel countries, into West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea area.
Back in 2013, Mali was governed by a transitional government led by President Dioncounda Traore. In August 2020, a military coup forced the then President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign.
Relations between Bamako’s junta and Paris have been increasingly hostile.
Recently, Malian Prime minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga accused France of partitioning his country, enabling the terrorists to find refuge and come back stronger in 2014.
‘Mali is ruled by a junta of five colonels who came to power two years ago and who are now saying that they need to maintain power for the next five years,’ Le Drian added.
‘And is this the kind of government, this junta, that we have to work with.’
Le Drian went on to say that Mali’s neighbouring states all condemned the current regime.
‘I don’t know a single African state which supports the military junta in Mali. So, it is the junta which is isolating itself; it is the junta which is losing, it is the junta which will have to face the consequences.’
Junta derailing EU operations
Le Drian said that there are an increasing number of hurdles to military operations on the ground, referring to a series of measures the junta recently put in place.
Denmark also began pulling its troops out of Mali in January after the junta insisted on an immediate withdrawal.
Denmark is one of the 14 countries that make up the Takuba Task Force, a European special forces mission, created by France in 2020 to accompany Malian soldiers in the fight against jihadists and who will ultimately take over from the French Barkhane Operation.
In February, Norway announced that it had abandoned plans to send a contingent of troops to Mali, saying it was unable to reach an agreement with the military government in Bamako.
A few days later, the French ambassador to Mali was asked to leave the country. This came after French Defence minister Florence Parly said that the junta was ‘multiplying provocations’ and Le Drian called the Mali junta ‘illegitimate’ and accused it of making ‘irresponsible decisions.’
Germany has also just announced that there no reason to keep its troops in Mali if the country delays presidential and legislative elections by four to five years.