The withdrawal would mark a major strategic shift for France, which has had troops in Mali for nine years.
President Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce that France will withdraw its forces from Mali, amid a breakdown in relations with the country’s military leaders.
Macron is expected to announce the decision this week, Reuters and AFP news agencies reported, citing diplomatic and security sources. Reuters said the decision could be announced on Wednesday after a high-level meeting on the African Sahel region in Paris. It is likely that this will be announced in conjunction with the European Union and African Union summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, AFP said.
The withdrawal from Mali, with the redeployment of forces to other countries in the region, amounts to a major strategic shift by France, ending a nine-year mission that successive French presidents have said is crucial to regional and European security.
“If the conditions are no longer favorable for us to be able to operate in Mali – and this is clearly the case – we will continue to fight terrorism alongside the Sahel countries that want it,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves. Le Drian said on Monday.
There have been two coups in Mali since 2020, and relations have worsened since the military reneged on an agreement to hold elections in February and proposed holding on to power until 2025. The regime has also developed closer ties with Russia, including turning to suspected mercenaries from Russia. Wagner’s private military contractor, this month expelled the French ambassador.
“Tomorrow evening (Wednesday) there will be a meeting between the French president and the heads of partner countries of our presence in the Sahel region in the fight against terrorism,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters.
He declined to say whether a decision had been taken on the troop withdrawal other than saying it would be taken in consultation with European and African partners.
The French withdrawal means the withdrawal of the Takuba Division from the European Special Forces.
A draft document of the plan seen by Reuters, circulated to participating countries in Mali, says that France and its Takoba partners “have decided to begin the coordinated withdrawal of their military resources from Malian territory.”
“It’s no longer about whether they leave, but what happens to the troops, what happens to the UN peacekeeping force and what happens to the EU missions,” a senior European diplomat told the news agency.
shift in focus
A French presidential official said the idea would be to reduce troops and cooperate exclusively with countries that want help.
France has already withdrawn some of its forces from the Sahel with the goal of reducing their numbers from about 5,000 to 2,500-3,000 by 2023. About half of its forces are stationed in Mali.
The Takuba mission has 600 to 900 soldiers, 40 percent of whom are French, and includes medical and logistical teams.
The draft document does not require countries participating in the 14,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA), the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) and EUCAP missions to withdraw. However, their future is doubtful as French forces provide medical and air support and reassurance.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Alparis, whose country represents the largest contingent in the EU mission, said the reasons for Europe’s involvement in the region remain.
European governments fear that shifting relations with the region’s rulers risks leaving a vacuum for al-Qaeda and ISIS/ISIS-linked movements.
In addition to Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau have recently experienced military coups.
“Spain will make its voice heard in the European Union. We believe that the reasons that brought us to Mali are still there – instability and jihad.
“It is advisable for us to keep on mission.”
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