For nearly a decade, French troops have been posted in Mali to combat the Islamic militants causing violence throughout the country. However, on Thursday, February 17th, President Emmanuel Macron announced the withdrawal of the French military from Mali, to be moved to other neighboring countries. Throughout the 2010 decade, religious radical groups including Al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates have brought danger to those within the Sahel region (land stretching across south-central North Africa, sitting between the Sahara Desert and the Sudanian savanna — including territories within Mali, Niger, Chad, and Sudan). Due to colonialist relationships, France has played an active role in providing military support to multiple countries in the region; however, following the continuous deterioration of relations between the French and Mali’s militant government, in addition to the growing distaste throughout the Malian people for French intervention, has led to the French troops’ withdrawal.
President Macron stated during his press conference held in Paris on Thursday: “We cannot remain militarily engaged alongside de-facto authorities whose strategy and hidden aims we do not share,” implying the tumultuous relationship between the nations has led to this change in support. Later in the conference, President Macron explained that many of the French troops would not leave the Sahel region entirely, but would move to other countries such as Niger and the Gulf of Guinea, with the support of their governments. Currently, there are an estimate of 5,000 troops throughout the Sahel region and around 2,400 within Mali, but by June 2022, France plans on moving the majority of troops out of Mali into neighboring countries, leaving the Malian people vulnerable to attack.
In August 2020, the Mali army successfully carried out a coup against the western-allied government in power, leading to the creation of the current military junta. Mali leadership has further distanced themselves from Euro-American relations by securing closer ties to Russia by deploying Russian mercenaries within Mali to fight jihadists. Numerous NATO countries condemned the recent actions of the Mali government, but France is the first to pull military support from the region.
While President Macron has stated to the press, “France has played a unifying role in this international mobilization in favour of the Sahel… We will continue to ensure this unifying role,” Malians have already begun to feel the negative effects of their withdrawal. Locals reported to the BBC that attacks from Islamic militants have already risen in Mali, and are likely to worsen when French troops begin the retract. Within Mali there are contrasting views on French intervention; some view their involvement in the region as a failed colonialist operation, with little improvement of the problem of terrorism, while others recognize the possible power vacuum that could occur without French involvement.
The current junta government is unable to combat the Islamic militants without international support. However, the Malian people wish for colonial influence to end in their country. With the withdrawal of military and governing support by France, they are leaving the Mali government vulnerable, and likely to turn to other international powers such as Russia and China for support. Western countries have a responsibility to decrease their amount of foreign influence historically held due to colonialism, but abandoning these regions without support lacks future planning and leaves local populations in dangerous situations.
Rather than pulling support, and providing no alternatives in exchange, western countries must work on an international level with other nations to find lasting solutions. UN peacekeeping forces have been deployed in Mali and in neighboring nations throughout Sahel, but they lack the resources to fully support those in need. UN troops can provide aid throughout the Sahel region if the proper resources are provided, rather than having individual countries send varying amounts of support that can be withdrawn without international agreement. While removing global colonial ties in the 21st century is important, protecting the lives of innocent civilians must be prioritized during these efforts, or the unsuccessful withdrawal of power will leave a failing state behind.