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France, allies to begin military withdrawal from Mali

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PARIS: France and its European partners involved in the fight against militants in Mali have decided to start the coordinated withdrawal of their military resources in the country.

The joint statement was issued by countries operating with France’s Barkhane counter-terrorism force and the Takuba mission, which includes some 14 European nations.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the attitudes of Mali’s ruling junta had forced France to pull out and denied that its almost decade-long deployment had ended in failure.

They agreed to set out plans on how to remain in the region, notably Niger and Gulf of Guinea countries by June 2022, a joint statement said on Friday.

The joint statement was issued by countries operating with France’s Barkhane counter-terrorism force and the Takuba mission, which includes some 14 European nations.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the attitudes of Mali’s ruling junta had forced France to pull out and denied that its almost decade-long deployment had ended in failure.

“We cannot remain militarily engaged alongside de-facto authorities whose strategy and hidden aims we do not share,” Macron told reporters on Thursday, adding he “completely” rejected the idea that France had failed in its former colony.

Even after the pull-out from Mali, however, the allies vowed to remain engaged in fighting terror in other countries including Niger.

“They agreed nonetheless to continue their joint action against terrorism in the Sahel region, including in Niger and in the Gulf of Guinea,” the statement said.

There are a total of 25,000 foreign troops currently deployed in the Sahel region, including around 4,300 French soldiers.

The Mali deployment has been fraught with problems for France.

Of the 53 soldiers killed serving in its Barkhane mission in West Africa, 48 of them died in Mali.

France initially deployed troops against militants in Mali in 2013 but the insurgency was never fully quelled, and now new fears have emerged of a militant push to the Gulf of Guinea.

The announcement was made as President Emmanuel Macron is to travel to Brussels on Thursday for a two-day EU-Africa summit, following a press conference at the Elysee on the “engagement of France in the Sahel”.

Relations between Paris and Bamako have deteriorated since the military junta went back on an agreement to organize elections in February and proposed holding power until 2025. 

It has also deployed Russian private military contractors, which some European countries have said is incompatible with their mission.

Earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron has welcomed African leaders for dinner as the announcement that France was likely to withdraw its troops from Mali after nearly 10 years fighting the insurgency.

Officials from Mali and Burkina Faso, which also recently experienced a coup, were not invited.

The working dinner hosted by Macron on Wednesday and brought together the leaders of France’s key allies in the Sahel region, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger.

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