France, its European partners, and Canada will withdraw their troops from Mali in West Africa. Currently, they are fighting Islamist militias as part of Operation Barkhane and the Task Force Takuba. The reason behind the withdrawal is worsening diplomatic relations with the Malian junta. According to the Czech Defense Minister Jana Černochová, Czechia will also pull its soldiers from the Takuba mission.
“Due to multiple obstructions by the Malian transitional authorities, Canada and the European States operating alongside Operation Barkhane and within the Task Force Takuba deem that the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali and have therefore decided to commence the coordinated withdrawal of their respective military resources dedicated to these operations from Malian territory,” the statement published by the Elysee Palace reads.
At the same time, the countries want to stay in the region, especially in Niger and the Gulf of Guinea. The reorganization plans are to be presented by June 2022.
Center of the fight to move to neighboring country
“The heart of this military operation will no longer be Mali, but Niger,” French President Emmanuel Macron said at a press conference.
According to him, the closure of the last French bases in Mali will take four to six months. He also stressed that French forces would remain deployed in neighboring Burkina Faso, where the military junta has also been in power since this January.
However, Macron refuses to make any concession that France had failed in Mali.
French media has recently speculated about the early announcement of troops’ departure from Mali. Earlier this week, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Mali no longer offers the conditions for continuing the fight against Islamist militias.
Soldiers from other countries who worked there as part of the Takuba mission will also leave the West African country. According to the Czech Minister of Defense, the entire coalition of countries involved unanimously agreed on this.
“We were supposed to lead this mission in the autumn, but, unfortunately, it will not happen,” Černochová told reporters after a meeting with her NATO colleagues in Brussels.
According to her, the withdrawal of the Czech army will begin in the coming weeks. However, the minister did not rule out that Czech troops from Task Force Takuba would be deployed in another country in the region, but the government and parliament would have to approve it first. Czechia has not yet received any request to operate in the area, added Černochová.
France has been fighting against Islamist groups in the Sahel for nine years. Relations between Bamako and Paris gradually deteriorated since August 2020, when Malian troops carried out a coup in the African country. The postponement of the elections, which were supposed to lead to the return of the democratic system, also provoked criticism. At the end of January, the junta expelled the French ambassador from Bamako and called on Denmark to withdraw its troops immediately.
The Takuba mission in the West African country has been operating on a French initiative since 2020, involving about 14 European countries, including the Czech Republic. The Czech army sent several dozen members of its special forces. According to a mandate approved by the government and parliament, up to 60 Czech soldiers could serve in the mission. At the same time, about 80 Czech soldiers are involved in the European Union Training Mission (EUTM), and four serve in the international staff of the UN mission MINUSMA.
The withdrawal of Czech soldiers does not affect EU and UN missions, added Černochová. The Czech army will take command of the EUTM mission in June for six months.
Will the EU missions continue?
However, the continuation of EU missions is uncertain at this time. The EU envoys are now talking to the Malian junta about the conditions and guarantees, said the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said she was skeptical about German troops remaining in the UN and EU missions.
It is essential that the UN mission in Mali continues after the withdrawal of French troops, Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo said in Paris on Thursday. Leaders of European and African countries met in the French capital on Wednesday evening ahead of a two-day EU-African Union summit.
Senegalese President Macky Sall, who chairs the African Union, said he was reassured that the fight against Islamist groups in the Sahel would continue. According to him, the representatives of the region will meet with the Malian leaders next week.