French President Emmanuel Macron announced that European troops will begin exiting Mali after nine years. Operation Barkhane – which has become known as ‘France’s Forever War’ – will wind down its ground operations over the next six months.
The decision comes after months of increasing tensions with the ruling military leadership of Mali, headed by Col. Assimi Goïta. The colonel most recently seized power during his second coup last May.
While Goïta is currently at odds with the West, he was backed by France and the US after his first successful coup in 2020. He has also participated in an AFRICOM training program, while his deep ties to the Pentagon were highlighted by the Washington Post soon after the 2020 putsch.
“Col. Assimi Goita… worked for years with U.S. Special Operations forces focused on fighting extremism in West Africa,” the outlet reported. “He spoke regularly with U.S. troops and attended U.S.-led training exercises, said officers from both countries, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.”
The relationship with Goïta seems to have deteriorated over accusations that Mali was employing mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group. Both Moscow and Bamako deny the allegations, but have acknowledged that the Russian military now has a presence in Mali.
Tensions heightened after Goïta said it would take five years to transition back to civilian rule. In response, Paris backed the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – a 15-nation group that Mali is a member of – in placing heavy sanctions on Mali. The government reports the sanctions have already caused economic suffering.
The ruling military junta then began loudly demanding that Western forces leave the country. In January, it succeeded in getting Denmark to remove its 300 soldiers, and expelled the French ambassador soon after
While no direct military clash broke out between Goïtas and Western forces, the Malian leader accused Macron of creating a de facto partition in his country. Western troops did continue to come under fire from jihadist factions. On January 23, a French soldier was killed and an American was wounded in an attack on the French base in Gao.
Thursday’s announcement from Macron signals an end to the ground war in Mali, meaning American and Western troops are now likely to be out of harm’s way. However, Macron did not declare an end to the broader war and thousands of troops remain in the region.
The intervention has its origins in the 2011 Libyan War. After America and its NATO partners smashed Gaddafi’s government, violence spread to the rest of the region. As Maj. Danny Sjursen, USA (ret.) explains:
“In fact, toppling Moammar Ghadafi may count as the “signal event” – by funneling fighters, firearms, and grievances southwest into the Sahel’s current conflict zones – in the Sahel’s US/Western-induced “tsunami of blowback.””
For the better part of a decade, France had deployed over 5,000 troops to Mali with several European coalition partners contributing soldiers of their own. France also receives substantial support from the US.
Initially, upon entering office, Biden sought to scale back America’s military involvement in Mali. However, as a part of Biden’s ‘pivot to Asia,’ he entered into an arms agreement with the UK and Australia, dubbed AUKUS. The deal gave Australia access to American nuclear-powered submarines, leading Canberra to cancel its multi-billion dollar order for diesel-powered subs from France.
Macron’s government became irate with the US. In an effort to repair the relationship, Biden agreed to increase American support for Operation Barkhane.
It is unclear how Paris’ decision will impact the American military footprint in the Sahel. The lion’s share of US support for France came in the form of air support with aerial drones, and America still has several large drone bases in countries bordering Mali. It is likely, then, that Washington’s meddling in Mali isn’t over.
- The FBI will form a new unit to target crime involving cryptocurrency. [Link]
- Military academies reported a record number of sexual assaults during 2020-2021 school year. [Link]
- Russia expelled the deputy American Ambassador. Russia said the move was in response to the US expelling a Russian diplomat. [Link]
- Russia delivers a response to the US about European security proposals. [Link]
- US officials say Russia’s invasion plan is in motion. [Link]’
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he wants to meet with Sergei Lavrov next week. [Link]
- Ukraine’s President Zelensky acknowledges his country is unlikely to become a NATO member. [Link]
- Taiwan says a Chinese anti-submarine helicopter entered its Air Defense Identification Zone. [Link]
- The Biden administration is considering giving Afghans in the US temporary protected status. [Link]
- 160 Republican Representatives send a letter to the White House threatening to undermine any return to the Iran deal if it is not approved by Congress. [Link]
- Israeli officials believe the Iran nuclear deal could be saved soon. [Link]