On June 3rd, France said that it was suspending its joint military operations with Malian forces “awaiting guarantees” that civilians return to positions of power.
This comes after, on May 25th, the Malian military detained interim President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and stripped them of their powers after a dispute over a cabinet reshuffle, after the previous military coup in August 2020.
Assimi Goita, a colonel who led both coups and was Ndaw’s deputy in the transitional administration formed in September with the task of steering the country towards the full civilian rule, was named president on May 28th.
France has around 5,100 troops in the Sahel under its Barkhane operation which spans five countries—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
The Barkhane force, which was launched after France intervened to fend off a jihadist advance in Mali in 2013. It barely managed to do so.
However, the French-led Takuba force, launched in March 2020 to enable European special forces to train Mali’s army to fight jihadists, will be suspended.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc and the African Union have suspended Mali from their organisations and threatened sanctions.
“Demands and red lines have been set by ECOWAS and the African Union to clarify the framework for the political transition in Mali. It is up to the Malian authorities to respond quickly,” France’s armed forces ministry said in a statement on June 3rd.
“Pending these guarantees, France, after informing its partners and the Malian authorities, has decided to suspend, as a precaution and temporarily, joint military operations with the Malian forces, as well as national advisory missions that benefit them.”
The mission, with its headquarters in Chad, was launched after France intervened in 2013 to help drive back fighters who had overrun parts of Mali.
French forces will continue to operate in the country separately and the decision will be reassessed in the coming days, the ministry said.
Over the May 29-30th weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that France would pull its soldiers out of Mali if it lurched towards what he called “radical Islamism” following the coup.
“Radical Islamism in Mali with our soldiers there? Never,” Macron, who called last week’s power grab a “coup d’etat in an unacceptable coup d’etat”.
Goita, who will be officially inaugurated as Mali’s transitional president on June 7th, had served as vice president since leading a coup last August that removed democratically elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The ousting came after months of protests over purported corruption and the government’s failure to tackle the country’s worsening conflict.
Currently, Mali is in almost complete chaos, with France’s operation being marginally effective even if fully functional. Islamists carry out frequent attacks, there is no active government, and the chaos deepens further as a result of sanctions from the ECOWAS and the African Union.
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