Invited into Mali to fight terrorism, Paris’ troops soon fell out of favor with the African nation’s government
The final French soldiers left the Gao military base in northern Mali on Monday, ending a nine-year counterterrorism mission by France in its former colony. While French troops were invited into Mali to fight Islamism, relations with the African country’s government later turned sour.
“Today at 13:00 Paris time the final contingent of the Barkhane force still on Malian territory crossed the border between Mali and Niger,” read a statement from the French military, referring to Operation Barkhane, the codename of its Malian mission.
French President Emmanuel Macron had announced the operation’s end last summer, and began withdrawing troops in February.
The French military initially deployed to Mali in 2013 at the behest of the Malian government. After pushing Islamist forces out of the northern half of the country, the military launched Operation Barkhane a year later, expanding its operation to Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger, all former French colonies.
The operation’s initial successes were never replicated, however. Jihadist attacks in Mali intensified throughout 2016 and 2017, with terrorism becoming more commonplace throughout the entire Sahel region in the following years. Anti-French sentiment rose in Mali, and France’s refusal to allow negotiations between the rulers of the Sahel and the insurgents on their lands only deepened the rift between the French troops and their African hosts.
Two military coups in Mali in 2020 and 2021 sealed the fate of the French operation, with Colonel Assimi Goita ordering the French to leave after he took power in 2021. Amid the apparent failure of French forces to crack down on jihadism in Mali, Goita then invited a private Russian paramilitary group to assist his army in fighting terrorism.
With France and the US sanctioning Mali in the wake of the coups, Goita turned to Russia. Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow in May, with Lavrov stating that they discussed deliveries of wheat, fertilizers, and petroleum products to Mali.
That same month, Mali pulled out of its defense accords with France, citing “flagrant violations” of its sovereignty by French forces.
Despite the withdrawal from Mali, France “remains engaged in the Sahel, in the Gulf of Guinea and the Lake Chad region with all partners committed to stability and to the fight against terrorism,” read a statement from the French presidency on Monday.
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