France threatens to withdraw Barkhane troops from Mali

Political uncertainty could force President Macron to pull all French soldiers from Sahel country

France will withdraw its soldiers from Mali if Islamist extremism takes hold and political uncertainty spreads in the west African country, French President Emmanuel Macron said.

More than 5,000 French troops were deployed to the Sahel to fight terrorist groups, but a second coup in Mali in nine months jeopardised the operation.

Mali’s new military leader Assimi Goita led the ousting of interim president Bah Ndaw and prime minister Moctar Ouane last week. Colonel Goita also overthrew Mali’s elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last August.

“Radical Islamism in Mali with our soldiers there? Never,” Mr Macron told Le Journal du Dimanche. “There is this temptation today in Mali. But if it goes in that direction, I will withdraw.”

He also threatened to pull French support from Mali if “there’s no longer democratic legitimacy or transition”.

The Economic Community of West African States stopped short of reimposing sanctions on Mali after an emergency meeting on Sunday, but suspended the country’s membership of the 15-nation bloc.

The group urged Col Goita to set up a new "inclusive government".

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France had supported the Ecowas demand for a presidential election on February 27 this year, and reiterated his government’s "strong condemnation of the coup d'etat”.

About 5,100 French soldiers are stationed in Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger as part of its Operation Barkhane against terrorist groups, including those linked to ISIS and Al Qaeda.

Published: June 1, 2021 01:55 PM

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