Written by Piero Messina
Christmas in Bamako for French President Emmanuel Macron. The French head of state goes next Monday to Mali to celebrate the Christmas holidays with his troops stationed in the Sahel country for more than eight years. It is the latest act of Operation Barkhane in Mali. Barkhane is the military mission launched by France to counter terrorist formations, conducted in cooperation with five countries, all former French colonies that cross the Sahel: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, the so-called “G5 Sahel”.
Macron will meet the interim president of Mali, Colonel Assimi Goita, who came to power in August 2020 and confirmed in May 2021 with the putsch that reiterated the takeover by the military.
Mali is one of the fault lines of the world, the country of the Sahel is the not only virtual frontier that separates the jihadist formations from North Africa and Europe. Now it risks becoming a critical fault for the already fragile relations between Europe and Russia.
For months, France has been planning a gradual withdrawal from Mali. Demobilization was announced by the Elysée at the end of June this year. The plan to withdraw from Mali provides for a profound revision of the French military device present in the Sahel with the gradual sale, in particular, of its three bases north of Mali. French army bases in Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu will be closed by the end of the year and handed over to the Malian army.
The chief of staff of the French troops confirmed the handover of the military base: “After that of Kidal, the base occupied by the Barkhane forces in Tessalit was transferred, on 13 November, to the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa). The last French soldiers left the site on November 15, is a statement to the press issued by the French army.
The chief of staff stressed that the transfer was “gradual, controlled and closely coordinated between the Malian army and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), whose contingent, consisting of several hundred soldiers , is permanently deployed in Tessalit ”. The handing over of the base to Malian soldiers, according to the French authorities, “is part of the evolution of the combat partnership between the French and Malian forces”. The “training sessions”, Paris specified, were conducted in this context “for several weeks”. The goal between the two forces was to “share their know-how and prepare Mali for the full assumption of the base by a group of their armed forces”. In reality, despite the reassuring tones, relations between France and Mali are on the verge of rupture. Macron criticizes the Malian president Goita for choosing to rely on Wagner’s mercenary troops. Presence of Russian mercenaries creates great embarrassment for France and its European and African partners.
In 2013, France was welcomed in Timbuktu as a liberator after months in which the population had lived under the jihadist yoke. Today the French are leaving the city without having found a solution and with a security situation that is deteriorating throughout the Sahel area.
The end of Operation Barkhane is not a true farewell from France to Mali. But above all, it is not the end of the crusade against terror that has been fought for nine years now. In fact, since March 2021, the Takuba mission has been operational, it is a French-led multilateral military mission in Mali, in which troops from Belgium, Italy, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Holland, Norway, Portugal participate. Sweden, the United Kingdom and Greece. In addition, the member countries of the G5 Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad) participate. The objective of the mission Takuba follows Barkhane’s storytelling: stabilize the African country and at least part of the greater Sahel region, regulate migratory flows, control illicit trafficking and counter jihadism. The arrival of Wagner, now, could put everything into question.
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