France to withdraw troops from Mali, remain in region

Associated PressUpdated: Thursday, February 17, 2022, 02:20 PM IST
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French soldiers who wrapped up a four-month tour of duty in the Sahel board a US Air Force C-130 transport plane, leaving their base in Gao, Mali | AP

Paris (France): President Emmanuel Macron says France will withdraw its troops from Mali but maintain a military presence in neighboring West African nations.

Announcing the move during a Thursday news conference in Paris, Macron said, “We cannot remain militarily involved” alongside Malian transitional authorities with whom “we don’t share the strategy and goals.”

France has about 4,300 troops in the Sahel region, including 2,400 in Mali. The so-called Barkhane force is also involved in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

French forces have been active since 2013 in Mali, where they intervened to drive Islamic extremists from power. But the insurgents regrouped in the desert and began attacking the Malian army and its allies.

Earlier, European leaders had said that troops from the European-led military task force known as Takuba would also be withdrawn from Mali.

Paris intends to maintain its military operations to fight Islamic extremism in other countries in Africa’s broader Sahel region. French President Emmanuel Macron is set to discuss the details during a news conference.

Tensions have grown between Mali, its African neighbors and the European Union, especially after the West African country’s transitional government allowed Russian mercenaries to deploy in its territory.

European nations operating within the Takuba force said in a joint statement 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.”

“In close coordination with neighboring states, they also expressed their willingness to remain committed in the region,” the statement said.

The Takuba task force is composed of several hundred special forces troops from about a dozen European countries, including France.

The announcement follows Macron’s Wednesday night meeting with African and European leaders involved in the fight against Islamic extremists in the Sahel region.

The Mali and Burkina Faso coup leaders were not invited since both nations were suspended from the African Union,

France has about 4,300 troops in the Sahel region, including 2,400 in Mali. The so-called Barkhane force is also involved in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

French forces have been active since 2013 in Mali, where they intervened to drive Islamic extremists from power. But the insurgents regrouped in the desert and began attacking the Malian army and its allies.

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