Military (re)engagement

Mali: France to resume military operations with Malian Armed Forces

By Jeune Afrique

Posted on July 5, 2021 09:09

Firefox_Screenshot_2021-07-05T08-43-05.052Z © A French helicopter engaged in Barkhane, in Ndakji, Mali, on 29 July 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
A French helicopter engaged in Barkhane, in Ndakji, Mali, on 29 July 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

France, which has more than 5,000 troops deployed in the Sahel, will resume joint operations with the Malian Armed Forces, after suspending bilateral cooperation following Mali’s second coup in May.

“Following consultations with the Malian transitional authorities and the countries of the region, France has taken note of the commitments made by the Malian transitional authorities”, which have been endorsed by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). Paris also released a statement in which it declared that it had “decided to resume joint military operations as well as national advisory missions, which had been suspended since 3 June.”

After Mali’s second putsch in nine months, resulting in Colonel Assimi Goïta becoming the head of a state, France declared it would be suspending joint operations with the Malian Armed Forces, with whom it had been battling jihadist insurgents for years.

The putschists had then been put under pressure by the international community to adopt a transitional period that would be limited to 18 months and led by civilians. But on 24 May, Colonel Goïta, who remained the transition government’s real strongman, had trampled on this commitment by having President Bah N’Daw and prime minister Moctar Ouane arrested. He was then proclaimed President of the transition government by the Constitutional Court.

“France remains fully engaged, with its European and American allies, alongside the Sahel countries and international missions”, to fight jihadist groups operating in the Sahel, said the Ministry of Defence in its statement on 2 July. France’s President Emmanuel Macron recently announced that France would be gradually disengaging itself from the Sahel.

The French anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane (currently 5,100 troops) will end and be replaced by a new mission, one that will focus on fighting terrorism and supporting local forces. But “this transformation does not mean that we will be leaving the Sahel or that we will slow down our counter-terrorism operations” in the region, said Florence Parly, France’s minister of armed forces, on 2 July.

“We (Europeans) have a collective responsibility to secure Europe’s southern flank. We cannot allow the Sahel, and more broadly Africa, to become a refuge and expansion zone for terrorist groups that are affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda,” she said.

To reduce the number of troops in the Sahel, France is counting heavily on the Takuba European special forces group, which was created at Paris’ initiative to accompany Malian units into combat.

“Today, we do not see any movement, reluctance or questioning linked to the political situation” in Mali, said Parly. She added “it is of the utmost importance that we consolidate Takuba, as it will have a major role to play in the coming years.”

Takuba currently has 600 troops in Mali: half are French, while the others are Estonian, Czech, Swedish and Italian. Romania has also pledged to participate.

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