France, allies to withdraw troops from Mali

Thursday February 17 2022
French soldiers patrol Timbuktu, Mali, in December 2021.

French soldiers patrol Timbuktu, Mali, in December 2021. France confirms it is withdrawing troops from Mali due to a breakdown in relations. PHOTO | AFP


France and European partners announced Thursday that they were withdrawing troops from Mali due to a breakdown in relations with the country's ruling junta, after nearly 10 years of fighting a jihadist insurgency.

In a joint statement, France and its European partners say that “the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively pursue our current military commitment in the fight against terrorism in Mali.”

Stability in the Sahel

France and its European allies are, however, not leaving the Sahel region. They said they remain committed to the region.

“We remain committed to supporting Mali and its people in their efforts to achieve lasting peace and stability, as well as to combat terrorist threats in the Sahel...

“In order to contain the potential geographical spread of the actions of armed terrorist groups towards the South and West of the region, international partners indicate their willingness to actively consider extending their support to neighbouring countries in the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa, based on their requests,” the statement said.


Some 2,500 to 3,000 French soldiers will remain deployed in the Sahel, with Niger remaining the centre of the counter-terrorism operation in the Sahel.

The statement urged Malian authorities to re-engage in a constructive dialogue with the Economic Organisation of West African States (Ecowas) and the African Union in order to find a solution for the stability and development of the country and the whole region.

France deployment

France's Mali deployment has been fraught with problems for Paris – of 53 French soldiers killed serving in West Africa's Sahel region, 48 of them died in Mali.

"Multiple obstructions" by the military junta that took power in August 2020 meant that the conditions were no longer in place to operate in Mali, said a statement signed by France and its African and European allies.

The decision applies to both 2,400 French troops in Mali, where France first deployed in 2013, and a smaller European force of several hundred soldiers, called Takuba, that was created in 2020 with the aim of taking the burden off the French forces.

"We cannot remain militarily engaged alongside de facto authorities whose strategy and hidden aims we do not share," President Emmanuel Macron told a news conference, saying that he "completely" rejected the idea that France had failed in the country.

Macron said that France's bases in Gossi, Menaka and Gao in Mali would close within the next four to six months.

But, he vowed, the withdrawal would be carried out in an "orderly" manner.


The announcement comes at a critical time for Macron, just days before the president is expected to make a long-awaited declaration that he will stand for a second term at elections in April.

Macron's priority will now be to ensure that the withdrawal does not invite comparisons with the chaotic US departure from Afghanistan last year.

France initially deployed the troops against the jihadists at Mali's request in 2013.

But the insurgency was never fully quelled.

Jihadists scattered by French firepower regrouped, and two years later moved into the centre of Mali, an ethnic powderkeg, before launching raids on neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Now, new fears have emerged of a jihadist push toward the Gulf of Guinea.