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Mali withdrawal announcement by Macron nears

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French President Emmanuel Macron stands at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Monday. AFP

Mali withdrawal announcement by Macron nears

French President Emmanuel Macron this week will announce that French troops will be withdrawn from Mali and redeployed elsewhere in the Sahel following a breakdown in ties with the country’s military regime, concurring sources say.

Several security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Macron’s announcement to end the nine-year French mission in Mali will coincide with a European Union-African Union summit in Brussels on February 17-18.

France initially deployed troops in 2013 to beat back advancing jihadist fighters in northern Mali.

But the extremists regrouped and in 2015 moved into central Mali, an ethnic powder-keg, before launching cross-border attacks on neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Now, sporadic raids on countries to the south have raised fears of a jihadist push to the Gulf of Guinea.

The expected pullout amounts to a major strategic shift by France, spurred by a breakdown in its relations with Mali, a former colony and traditional ally, after two military coups.

The withdrawal will end a mission that successive French presidents had argued was crucial for regional and European security.

“If the conditions are no longer in place for us to be able to act in Mali – which is clearly the case – we will continue to fight terrorism side-by-side with Sahel countries who want it,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on February 14.

Macron, who was already planning to reduce the almost 5,000 troops deployed in the Sahel region, is expected to announce redeployments to other bases operated by French forces in neighbouring countries such as Niger.

He was scheduled to host allied African leaders for informal talks in Paris on February 16 ahead of the summit, diplomatic sources said.

With a presidential election looming in April, Macron is eager to avoid comparisons with the US’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year – or any suggestion that the deaths of 48 French soldiers have been in vain.

After two coups in Mali since 2020, France and other Western nations complain that the junta has missed deadlines to restore civilian rule and become increasingly hostile to the presence of French and European soldiers on its soil.

This has coincided with the regime developing close ties with Russia, including turning to suspected mercenaries from Russia’s private military contractor Wagner.

Last year, Macron announced a reduction of France’s Barkhane force amid questions over both the financial cost of the nearly decade-long mission and its rising human toll, prompting a furious reaction from Mali.

In recent years, fellow EU nations had joined France in the Sahel, sharing the military and financial burden and – Paris hoped – limiting long-standing allegations of French interference in its former African colonies.

But the bell is tolling for this mission.

Denmark announced it was withdrawing its contingent of elite soldiers in late January and Norway has abandoned a planned deployment.

“It’s impossible to continue in such conditions,” Estonian Defence Minister Kalle Lane told the Postimees daily on February 12.

Sources familiar with negotiations said there had been disagreement among Europeans as well as with the British and the US about a wider departure, including over the risks of leaving Mali open to Russian influence.

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