A few days ago, French President Emmanuel Macho announced that he would withdraw French troops from the West African country of Mali.
French troops have been fighting Islamist militants in Mali since 2013. There are 5,000 French troops in Mali and its environs. They are mainly fighting militant groups like Al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS).
But over the past eight years, the presence of French troops in Mali has become increasingly unpopular with the country’s government as well as its people.
Terrorist threats in Mali and the Sahel region
Both al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) militant groups have been hit hard in the Middle East. After the defeat in the Middle East, both groups decided to gain influence in the Sahel region of Africa.
The Sahel is a region of West Africa. This tropical semi-arid region includes the Sahara Desert. The region extends from east to west of the continent.
The Sahel region includes parts of Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and al-Qaeda-linked militant group Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslim (JNIM) are active in the Sahel region. Militant groups have been carrying out terrorist attacks in the region. Thousands were killed in the attack. Thousands have been displaced. Thousands of schools have been closed.
Why France joined?
In 2013, at the request of the Mali government, France sent 5,000 troops to the country. Because then the government of the country faced armed rebellion.
The Tuareg mercenaries in northern Mali have been fighting for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. After Gaddafi was ousted and killed, the mercenaries returned to Mali. They started fighting with the declaration of independence of northern Mali.
Tuareg rebels have formed an alliance with al-Qaeda-linked Islamists with weapons provided by Gaddafi. At the same time, they took control of northern Mali. As well as threatening to seize control of the entire country.
Mali was a French colony until 1979. In the face of the Tuareg rebels, the French government announced that it wanted to protect the people of Mali, as well as the 6,000 French nationals living in the country.
Of the 5,000 troops France sent, 2,400 were stationed in northern Mali. The rest of the army was involved in finding jihadist cells operating in Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
In addition, there are 14,000 UN peacekeepers in the region. These peacekeepers are working with the local military. They patrol the Sahel desert.
Why the Presence of
French Troops Are Unpopular When the French troops first arrived in Mali 9 years ago, the members of this force were warmly welcomed. But then things get worse.
Despite the presence of French troops in Mali, the number of terrorist attacks in the country has continued to rise. Similarly, the number of Malians joining the rebel group has increased.
In the last nine years, the threat of Islamic militants has spread to other countries, including Burkina Faso and Niger.
The rebels have been conducting frequent raids on their bases in the Sahara Desert.
Many locals in Mali think that France is a country of advanced military power. France should have been able to solve the problem of terrorism. And if France can’t do that, then they should leave.
Some in Mali, however, are calling the presence of French troops in the former colonial power an “occupation”.
The name of the French counter-terrorism operation in the coastal region of Africa is ‘Operation Barkhan’. Fifty-five French soldiers were killed in the operation. So this campaign is not popular in France itself.
The country’s military junta seized power in a coup in August 2020. For the second time in eight years, Mali’s army overthrew the country’s civilian government. Mali’s military junta is at loggerheads with the French government.
Mali’s junta withdrew from the agreement to hold democratic elections in February. Mali’s military junta has announced that it will remain in power until 2025. The French ambassador objected. Mali expelled him for this.
In his announcement, French President Emmanuel Macho said that they could not be militarily involved with any of Mali’s authorities whose tactics and secret goals France did not agree with.
France has refused to sign a peace deal with Islamist groups active in Mali. However, many in Mali support such an agreement.
France has been angered by Mali’s decision to hire troops from a Russian company to help fight jihadist groups.
“We cannot coexist with the tenants,” said Florence Parley, France’s armed forces minister.
What will happen now is that
the French troops involved in Operation Barkhan will be withdrawn in the next four to six months.
France will deploy troops to other countries in the Sahel region. They will work with the ‘Taquba Taskforce’ of other European countries. The countries in the task force say plans for how they will work in the region in the future will be worked out.
The governments of neighboring countries have already expressed concern that the withdrawal of French troops from Mali could further destabilize the region.
Ivory Coast President Alasane Watara has warned that France’s decision will create a political vacuum.
“Now we will be forced to increase our defense forces as well as our border security,” Watara said.
Ghanaian President Aquifo-Ado has called for UN peacekeepers to remain in Mali despite the withdrawal of French troops.
Some people in Mali have welcomed the arrival of Russian Company mercenaries. People of this genre see these mercenaries as politically neutral.
However, many Western countries have expressed skepticism about these mercenaries. Here they see the hand of the Russian government.