Mali withdraws from regional anti-ISIS force

Country's military government cites lack of progress in fight against extremists

A Malian soldier, assigned to work with the G5 Sahel anti-extremist alliance, on duty in the town of Sevare. AFP
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Mali on Sunday announced that it will quit the multinational military force in West Africa's sub-Sahara region, after it was blocked from assuming the presidency of the group.

The country's military government blamed a lack of progress in the fight against the Islamists and the failure to hold recent meetings in Mali.

“The government of Mali is deciding to withdraw from all the organs and bodies of the G5 Sahel Force," including the joint force fighting the extremists, Bamako announced.

“The opposition of some G5 Sahel member states to Mali's presidency is linked to manoeuvres by a state outside the region aiming desperately to isolate Mali,” it added, without naming the country.

The G5 Sahel force, which includes troops from Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, was set up in 2017 to counter Islamist extremists who have swept across the region in recent years, killing thousands of people and forcing millions to flee their homes.

The group's heads of state were supposed to assemble in Bamako in February, to formalise Mali's assumption of the G5 presidency, but nearly four months later, this meeting “has still not taken place”, the military government said.

The country's departure from the security force deepens its isolation after its neighbours imposed sanctions against it in January over delays in restoring civilian rule.

Mali's military government, which ousted former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and took power in a 2020 coup, opted for a two-year transition, while the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) is pushing for a maximum of 16 months.

Earlier this month, UN chief Antonio Guterres said political instability and human rights breaches in Mali and Burkina Faso were undermining the Sahel's anti-extremist operations, and called for returning power to civilians as soon as possible.

Mali is struggling under sanctions imposed by other West African countries over the military's decision to retain power following multiple coups.

The country's diplomatic relations with western allies have also deteriorated, especially over its recent rapprochement with Russia.

The violence gripping Mali since 2012 has involved attacks by militants linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS, along with an assortment of militias and bandits.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: May 16, 2022, 8:35 AM