After almost ten years of fighting Islamist groups in Mali, the French President, Emmanuel Macron and his European allies announced on Thursday the withdrawal of French and European military from Mali. The announcement comes after relations between France and the coup leaders deteriorated in the past few months. France’s Barkhane force in the Sahel and Europe’s Takuba force are expected to leave Mali within 4 to 6 months in an orderly manner but will remain fighting Islamist armed groups in the region in neighbouring West African countries.
The withdrawal means that France’s bases in Manaka, Gossi and Gao in Mali will be closed which may worsen the security crisis in Mali. With the Barkhane force and the Takuba withdrawing from Mali, armed Islamist groups may advance to the capital Bamako and possibly repeat the same events as in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over the country after the United States withdrew its troops. Furthermore, the withdrawal may also decrease Western influence in Mali as Russian mercenary presence increases.
French troops were first deployed in Mali in 2013 after the Malian government requested help from France as the Islamist armed groups gained ground towards the capital Bamako. The former colonial power then sent 1,700 troops as part of Operation Serval, which was later broadened to Operation Barkhane in 2014 when the violence spread to Burkina Faso and Niger. However, in 2019 after a series of terrorist attacks, the Malian citizens took to the streets of Bamako burning French flags in outrage over attacks in the central and northern part of Mali.
Ever since the coup leaders failed to hold elections in February 2022, Mali-French relationships have been deteriorating. Mali is reportedly deploying Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group but it denies doing so. Things got even worse when Mali expelled the French ambassador from Mali, a day later, the French president announced its plans to decide whether French troops will remain in Mali or not. This triggered anti-French protests where Russian flags were waved in celebration of French withdrawal.
France and its European Allies explained in a statement that due to the lack of “political, operational and legal conditions,” military engagement to fight terrorism in Mali were no longer effective. France has been accused of dividing Mali through its fights against the Islamist armed groups by Mali’s interim prime minister, Choguel Kokalla Maiga but he failed to provide any evidence.
The allies “decided to commence the coordinated withdrawal of their respective military resources dedicated to these operations from Malian territory”. The French president added that “We cannot remain militarily engaged alongside de-facto authorities whose strategy and hidden aims we do not share.” Experts and analysts warn that the crisis may worsen when France completes its withdrawal. Delina Goxho, a specialist in security in the Sahel region, explained to Al Jazeera that the withdrawal will leave a “security vacuum” that will affect both “Mali and Niger.”
It is crucial that both Mali and neighbouring countries as well as France avoid the security vacuum in the region for the safety of the Malian citizens and to avoid worsening the security crisis in the region. It is likely that if no measures are taken, the withdrawal of French and European troops will lead to a repeat of the events in Afghanistan when the U.S. withdrew its troops. Fortunately, the United Nations is examining the effect the withdrawal will have and will “take the necessary steps to adapt” explained Olivier Salgado the spokesman of United Nations’ Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). For the safety of Malian citizens and to avoid the crisis from spreading in Africa, the African Union should also monitor and take the necessary steps to adapt to the situation.