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Leaving announcing it, but quietly. This seems to have been France’s watchword to put an end to a sequence of nine years of military intervention in Mali. Monday, August 15, “the last detachment of the “Barkhane” force present on Malian soil has crossed the border between Mali and Niger”, announced the staff of the armies.
The first French soldiers were deployed in Mali in 2013 as part of the “Serval” anti-terrorist operation, which became “Barkhane” the following year. The last, who left on Monday, were based in the Gao camp. This northeastern city is located in the so-called three-border area adjoining Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, the epicenter of the activity of Sahelian armed groups linked to the Islamic State organization or to Al-Qaeda. Gao was the main base of the French operation in the Sahel, 5,100 strong in total, present in Mali, Niger and Chad.
The French military withdrawal from Mali began at the end of 2021. Gradually, “Barkhane” returned to the Malian army the keys to its bases in Kidal, Tessalit, Timbuktu, Gossi then Ménaka. But this time, Paris and Bamako seem to have spared themselves any official handover ceremony. Gao was however the largest French base in Africa. This departure on the sly is a sign of the tension between the two countries, whose relations have gradually deteriorated since the Malian military coup of August 2020.
Refocus on Niger
On July 28, on an official visit to Guinea-Bissau, Emmanuel Macron felt that fighting terrorism was not “more the goal” of the Malian military junta. “This is what presided over our choice to leave Malian soil”, he added. Bamako had denounced this posture “neocolonial, paternalistic and condescending”.
The “rearticulation of the device of the operation “Barkhane””, according to the terms used by the Elysée, should make it possible to refocus on Niger. “France remains committed to the Sahel, the Gulf of Guinea and the Lake Chad region”, specified the French presidency. For Paris, “the efficiency [des soldats français] has been demonstrated by the neutralization of most of the senior executives of the hierarchy of Malian terrorist groups”. Although these groups are still active.
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