Le Drian Says France Will Totally Pull Out of Mali, But ‘Not Leaving’ Sahel Region
23:39 GMT 15.02.2022 (Updated: 11:36 GMT 23.11.2022)
© AP Photo / Bilal HusseinFrench Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and his Lebanese counterpart Nassif Hitti, hold a news conference following their meeting at the Lebanese foreign ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, July. 23, 2020. Le Drian met with Lebanon's president Thursday at the start of his two-day visit to the Mediterranean country that is witnessing the worst economic crisis of its modern history.
© AP Photo / Bilal Hussein
In the latest development of France’s row with Mali, Paris has opted to totally pull out of the Sahelian nation, saying it will continue fighting terrorist groups in nearby nations. However, its presence there is scarcely more welcomed by the local population than in Mali.
Speaking Monday on the France 5 public television network, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said President Emmanuel Macron “wanted us to reorganize, but we are not leaving” the Sahel.
"If the conditions are no longer met for us to be able to act in Mali, we will continue to fight terrorism alongside the other countries of the Sahel, which are quite demanding," the foreign minister said.
His words come two weeks after the government of Interim President Col. Assimi Goita expelled the French ambassador in retaliation for Le Drian calling the Malian government “out of control” due to its two coups d’etat since 2020 and numerous disputes with European powers that have deployed troops to the country.
Following the second coup in May 2021, in which Goita removed a civilian interim leadership and placed himself in charge, Macron said France would end its military cooperation with Mali but not totally depart the country. French troops have been engaged in Mali since 2013, when they responded to requests for help in fighting Tuareg rebels who had seized nearly half of the country. However, eight years later and the situation in Mali’s northeast is scarcely any better.
Last week, Malian Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga articulated a widespread belief in Mali that Operation Barkhane, the French anti-terror mission, had actually been helping the terrorist forces to regroup instead of eliminating them.
"The intervention turned into a de-facto partition of Mali, which contributed to the sanctuarisation of our territories for the terrorists who had time to take refuge and reorganise themselves in order to come back in force," Maiga said.
A French military helicopter over the Nigerien town Madama, which serves as a forward operating base for the French, Niger and Chad armies in Operation Barkhane
France has reorganized its 5,000-strong deployment under Operation Barkhane into a smaller force of 2,500 to 3,000 soldiers, named Task Force Takuba, intended to continue fighting terrorist groups in the tri-state area where Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger meet. Following Le Drian’s comments, it seems those operations will only happen in Niger and Burkina Faso.
Later this week, Macron will hold a video conference with the leaders of Niger, Chad and Mauritania, three of the G5 Sahel nations, to discuss the counterterrorism operation and what Macron called “significant changes” to Paris’ military presence in the region.
According to French state radio broadcaster RFI, a source close to Macron’s administration said that Niger “is not too attracted to the idea” of hosting the Takuba Task Force, and Mauritania wants to retain its neutrality in the dispute between its eastern neighbor and Paris.
Burkina Faso experienced its own military coup on January 24, which catapulted Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba to the president’s office, who has not been invited to the meeting with Macron.
In November 2021, a French military convoy traveling from Cote D’Ivoire to Mali sparked large protests as it passed through Burkina Faso and Mali, which it shot its way out of, killing several demonstrators.
France claims that its failing grip on Mali and other former African colonies, like the Central African Republic, is due to the nefarious hand of Moscow, whose military advisers have been sought by both Bamako and Bangui. Both Russia and Mali have denied claims they are planning a Russian base in Mali, although Moscow reaffirmed its past military training with Mali, as well as that country’s right to seek help from any government or private firm it wishes.
Le Drian claimed on Monday that 1,000 members of PMC Wagner, a private military contractor based in Russia, are already deployed in Mali. The country has denied the presence of any Wagner mercenaries, and the Russian government, which has been accused by the West of controlling Wagner, has denied any connection to any talks between the private company and the Malian government.