D.he French President Emmanuel Macron announced the imminent end of the military operation “Barkhane” in Mali in Paris on Thursday. Most of the 5100 French soldiers are to be withdrawn. There will be a detailed schedule for this, Macron assured at a press conference in the Elysée Palace. It is not France’s role to continue a military combat mission in a country whose leaders themselves do not contribute to stabilization, he said, referring to the Malian head of state Assimi Goita.
However, he did not only decide to withdraw with a view to the second military coup. Macron recalled the high casualties, 50 French soldiers have fallen since the start of the mission in 2013. “We will fundamentally rethink our military presence,” announced Macron. He will coordinate closely with the American President and European partners. France will keep all its commitments to its Western partners. The Bundeswehr has been working alongside France in Mali since 2013. With an upper limit of 950 soldiers, the Bundeswehr takes part in the United Nations mission to stabilize Mali’s Minusma. Germany is also an important pillar of the European training mission EUTM. At the latest Franco-German Council of Ministers at the end of May, Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out a withdrawal. The Bundeswehr is still needed in the West African country.
Macron denies connection with survey results
Macron announced that he wanted to increase the French share in the European Takuba combat force. The withdrawal of the Barkhane soldiers will be ordered and according to a precise schedule. There are currently 5100 French soldiers deployed in the Sahel region. From now on, France will concentrate strictly on the fight against Islamist terrorism. “My decision is not based on survey results,” emphasized Macron. The foreign assignment meets with increasing rejection in France. While 73 percent of the French were in favor of the mission at the start of the mission, it is now only supported by just under half. “The form of our presence is no longer appropriate to what is happening,” said the President. In several Sahel states, the rulers have not fulfilled their promises to return state structures.
At the G-5 summit in Pau in early January 2020, Macron last asked the heads of state of Mauritania, Malis, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger to step up their commitment to stabilization. The French also reacted to the growing criticism of the French military presence. In the population of the five Sahel countries, the soldiers encounter increasing rejection. Opposition groups are gaining popularity with Francophobic slogans such as “Down with France”.
“Very dangerous precedent”
Macron stressed that the allegations of neocolonialism would be inconsistent with his Africa policy goals. France wants to help, but by no means take the place of the governments. The recognition of the second coup in Mali represents a “very dangerous precedent”. France has already suspended joint military operations with the Malian armed forces. Nothing will change in that as long as there are no guarantees for a democratic transition.
Macron said there should be no negotiations between the rulers and jihadist groups. The French military leadership has long been pushing for an end to the costly operation. Chief of Staff Francois Lecointre recently stressed in a hearing before the National Assembly that “there will be no final victory”. The army leadership is very concerned that the governments could negotiate with jihadist groups. Macron stressed that he could not risk the lives of French soldiers if the Sahel governments were negotiating with their enemies at the same time.
Mali has been ravaged by conflict for almost ten years. Several terrorist groups are fighting there and control large parts of the desert state, including extremists from the Islamic State and the terror network Al-Qaeda. The violence has also reached neighboring countries in the Sahel zone in recent years.