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France Reviews Mali Military Presence After Junta Expels Ambassador, Given 72 Hours to Leave

France said Tuesday it would decide with EU partners on a future military presence in Mali by mid-February, admitting there would have to be changes after the ruling junta expelled its envoy.

French ambassador Joel Meyer was told on Monday to leave Mali within 72 hours in the latest souring of ties between the West African country, which has been racked by an Islamist insurgency, and its former colonial ruler.

The Bamako authorities said they were ordering Meyer out after “hostile” comments by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who has described the new Malian regime as “illegitimate”.

Even after recent drawdowns, France has some 4,000 troops deployed across the Sahel region, half of them in Mali, in the Barkhane operation to fight Islamist jihadists.

Paris wants now to increasingly rely on a European force known as Takuba to take the pressure off its military.

“It is clear that the situation can’t go on like this,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Franceinfo radio Tuesday.

He said Paris and its partners in the Takuba special forces mission would work out “between now and mid-February” any changes to the deployment in Mali.


Rebel officers led a coup in August 2020 that toppled Mali’s elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was facing angry protests at failures to stem the jihadists.

The following May, the junta pushed out a civilian-led government appointed to oversee a transition period and named strongman Colonel Assimi Goita as interim president.

Tensions had already been rising after President Emmanuel Macron lashed out at the junta’s failure to stick to a timetable for a return to civilian rule.

But the expulsion of Paris’ envoy appears to have been triggered by recent comments from Le Drian, including to the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday.

Le Drian said the junta’s decisions were keeping it in “illegitimacy” and said they were behaving as if the “coup d’etat had created law”.

He also expressed alarm at the junta’s reported decision to hire mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, which the Malian authorities deny.

Wagner’s actions “disrupt the entire military system present in Mali”, Le Drian said, adding that the “fight against terrorism must continue, but no doubt under different conditions”.

France wants to halve Barkhane troop numbers by the summer of 2023, with the Takuba force taking up some of the slack by training and fighting alongside Malian units.

‘Dead end’

But Denmark announced last week it would withdraw a newly deployed contingent of 100 troops from Mali after the authorities indicated they were not welcome.

Germany meanwhile criticised the junta’s decision to expel France’s ambassador, saying the “unjustified” move would lead “to a dead end”.

Germany has around 1,500 soldiers in Mali as part of the United Nations’ MINUSMA peacekeeping mission and an EU mission to train Malian soldiers.

The West Africa bloc ECOWAS imposed a trade embargo and border closures against Mali on January 9, a move backed by France, the United States and the European Union.

Asked if French troops would now pull out of Mali, Attal replied that Paris had “progressively reduced the numbers and would continue to do so”.

“Can a French soldier still risk his life for the sake of protecting a failed country which is expelling its ambassador?” asked the retired French colonel Raphael Bernard, author of the book “At the Heart of Barkhane,” on Twitter.

A full exit from Mali would not be a smooth process for France, however.

The withdrawal of French soldiers deployed at bases in Gao, Menaka and Gossi, would take several months to organise, according to the military.

Moreover, transferring the burden to Takuba also promises to be a headache: Niger has indicated it will not host this task force, and another neighbour, Burkina Faso, has just experienced a coup of its own.


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