On Monday, France rejected the accusations of ‘abandonment’ and of ‘unilateral’ announcement of the withdrawal of its troops made by the Malian Prime Minister at the platform of the UN.
“The transformation of our military system in the Sahel is neither a departure from Mali, nor a unilateral decision, and it is wrong to say the opposite,” said the spokesperson for the French Foreign Ministry.
The adjustment of this operation was the subject of “consultations with the Sahelian and Malian authorities since the Pau summit in January 2020”, noted Anne-Claire Legendre during a virtual press briefing.
Paris undertook in June to reorganize its military system in the Sahel, notably by leaving the northernmost bases of Mali (Kidal, Timbuktu, and Tessalit) and by planning to reduce its personnel in the region by 2023 to 2,500-3,000 men, compared to more than 5,000 today.
“France remains committed alongside Mali and the other G5 Sahel states, at their request, in the fight against terrorism which remains an absolute priority”, “sometimes at the cost of blood”, added the spokesperson, recalling that a French soldier, the 52nd, had died in action on Friday in this region.
A project “developed with the heads of state”
French force commander Barkhane also denied any lack of consultation and any abandonment. “The plan to leave Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu […] was drawn up with the heads of state of the G5 zone [G5 Sahel: Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, editor’s note]”, declared General Laurent Michon during a trip to Nouakchott.
“This is absolutely not an abandonment,” he insisted, stressing that the peacekeepers of the UN Mission (Minusma) and the Malian army remained present in these three places.
On Saturday, the Malian Prime Minister, Choguel Kokalla Maïga, accused France of an “abandonment in flight” with the reorganization of its military presence in the Sahel, after Bamako’s decision to initiate discussions with a Russian private paramilitary company.
He deplored in passing a “lack of consultation” from Paris and a “unilateral” announcement without tripartite coordination with the UN and the Malian government.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in the halls of the UN General Assembly that Mali had addressed “a private Russian military company” after French forces failed to oust terrorists from the country.