After nine years of deployment, the last French soldiers leave Mali. France has said its final troops have left Mali, completing a withdrawal that ends a nine-year operation in the country at the centre of the Sahel region’s spiralling security crisis.
In a statement, the French army said on Monday it had met the “major military logistics challenge” of the pullout “in an orderly and safe fashion”.
The withdrawal comes amid tanking relations between Paris and Bamako, which has increasingly turned to Russia to respond to armed groups linked to ISIS (ISIL) and al-Qaeda who have expanded their reach while jockeying for control in the country’s sprawling central region.After nine years of deployment, the last French soldiers leave Mali.
“Today at 1pm Paris time [11:00 GMT] the final contingent of the Barkhane force still on Malian territory crossed the border between Mali and Niger,” the French military statement said, using the official name of the main French operation in the region, which was launched with the cooperation of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in 2014 as armed groups became increasingly active in Mali’s arid centre.
France had initially intervened in the country at the request of Bamako in 2013, under Operation Serval, to respond to an offensive by the ethnic-Tuareg separatist movement, which had allied with an al-Qaeda affiliate, in the country’s north.
In a statement on Monday, the French Presidency said: “France remains engaged in the (wider) Sahel (region), in the Gulf of Guinea and the Lake Chad region with all partners committed to stability and to the fight against terrorism.”After nine years of deployment, the last French soldiers leave Mali.
Niger will now become the hub for French troops in the Sahel, with about 1,000 soldiers based in the capital, Niamey, along with fighter jets, drones and helicopters, French officials told reporters last month. Another 300 to 400 would be dispatched for special operations with Niger troops in the border regions with Burkina and Mali.
About 700 to 1,000 French troops are also based in Chad, with an undisclosed number of special forces operating elsewhere in the region, the officials said, adding that French troops would no longer carry out missions or pursue armed groups into Mali once the exit was complete.
In February, France had about 2,400 troops and several bases in Mali when it announced its withdrawal, which also included ending the smaller French-led European Union force called Takuba that had been operating near the border of Niger and Burkina Faso.