France and its European allies will withdraw their troops from Mali after nine years, President Emmanuel Macron has announced.
French troops have been involved in the fight against Islamist militants in Mali since 2012 but in recent months the governing military junta has shown hostility towards the foreign troops.
Speaking on Thursday, February 17, Macron said the decision to leave followed a breakdown in diplomatic relations, amid growing hostility from Mali’s governing military junta.
Macron said the forces will be re-deployed across Africa’s Sahel region.
“We cannot remain militarily engaged alongside de-facto authorities whose strategy and hidden aims we do not share”, Mr Macron told a news conference in Paris on Thursday.
He refuted claims that the withdrawal was an acceptance of failure and insisted that France remains committed to combating Islamist insurgencies in the region.
Macron revealed that Niger had agreed to host some of the withdrawing forces.
“France has played a unifying role in this international mobilisation in favour of the Sahel”, he said. “We will continue to ensure this unifying role.”
The move cane after a meeting of European and African leaders at the Elysee palace on Wednesday night.
In a statement released on Thursday morning, countries involved in the French-led Tabuka Task Force agreed to set out plans on how to remain actively involved in the region, most notably Niger and the Gulf of Guinea countries, by June 2022.
“In close coordination with the neighbouring states, they also expressed their desire to remain engaged in the region, in accordance with their respective constitutional procedures” the statement said.
Relations between France and Mali, which is one of the world’s poorest nations, have deteriorated since the army seized power in coup August 2020 despite close to 3000 French troops deployed in Mali.
Tensions increased last month when the junta reneged on an agreement to arrange elections in February and vowed to hold power until 2025, which led to the expulsion of the French ambassador while Russia-based Wagner mercenary group have since started working in Mali.
Macron warned on Thursday that the group had “essentially come to secure their economic interests and the junta itself”.