Mali calls on France to withdraw soldiers “immediately”

BAMAKO – Mali’s ruling junta is demanding the immediate withdrawal of French and European troops a day after France announced it would withdraw its troops from the West African country.

“The government invites the French authorities to leave the country immediately,” Mali government spokesman Colonel Abdullah Mayga said on national television on Friday.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced his release on Thursday, saying it would take place within six months.

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels on Friday, Macron said the withdrawal of French troops “will be carried out in order” to ensure the security of UN peacekeepers in the country and the security of French soldiers. “I will not compromise” security, he insisted.

France has about 2,400 troops in Mali, comprising 4,300 troops in West Africa, aimed at stabilizing the Sahel region against the growing threat of Islamic extremists.

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Operation Barkhane is also being conducted in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. Ultimately, France is seeking to reduce the number of its troops in the Sahel to about 2,500 or 3,000 people, according to the French armed forces.

The deployment of French troops in Mali in 2013 was initially successful when it managed to oust jihadist rebels from three centers in northern Mali. But the extremists have simply relocated to vast desert areas, where their attacks have become more frequent in recent years.

After the coup in August 2020, Mali was led by Colonel Asimi Goita. Goita staged a second coup by firing civilian leaders in Mali’s transitional government and leading himself last year. Since then, many Malians have staged large demonstrations against the presence of troops from France, a former colonial state.

Experts and former politicians have expressed concern that jihadist groups will take advantage of France’s withdrawal, while others have noted that Mali’s security has not improved despite the presence of French forces.

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Senegalese President Mackie Sal, who also heads the African Union, has expressed doubts about the future of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali following the withdrawal of French troops.

“If there are no more forces like Barkhan that have been there with logistical and intelligence resources, how can we ensure the continuity of the United Nations mission in Mali?” Sal asked at the end of the EU-Africa summit in Brussels on Friday. “If there are no more forces in Mali, how can the Malay army alone secure its territory today?”

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AP writers Sylvie Corbett in Paris and Samuel Petreken of Brussels have contributed.

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