France and Allies to Begin Withdrawal From Mali

France and Allies to Begin Withdrawal From Mali

France and several of its Western allies said on Thursday that they would begin a “coordinated withdrawal” of their military forces from Mali, accusing the junta that recently came to power there of obstructing antiterrorist operations that the French Army has been spearheading in the Sahel region over the past decade.

France, its partners in Europe and Canada “have taken the decision to withdraw their military presence in Mali,” said President Emmanuel Macron of France.

The countries said in a statement that they remained “committed to supporting Mali and its people in their efforts to achieve sustainable peace and stability,” but that the country’s new leaders were responsible for “multiple obstructions,” and that “the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali.”

The statement said that the countries would “continue their joint action against terrorism in the Sahel region, including in Niger and in the Gulf of Guinea, and have begun political and military consultations with them with the aim to set out the terms for this shared action by June 2022.”

France sent troops into Mali, a landlocked West African country, in 2013 to beat back armed Islamists who had taken over its northern cities. The campaign was only supposed to last a few weeks.

Nearly ten years later, thousands of French soldiers are still there, housed in sprawling air-conditioned bases, operating aircraft including drones and traversing the scrub in state-of-the-art armored cars. They are searching for an elusive enemy, armed with AK-47s and moving on motorcycles, that is growing in reach and number, despite the stream of jihadist leaders that France reports it has killed.

The military coalition, led by France and Mali but comprising other West African and European armies too, had long been failing to stem the tide, and worsening security was one of the factors that led to Mali’s coup in August 2020.

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