France halts joint military operations with Mali over coup

Special forces chief Assimi Goita ousted civilian government last week

Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of Malian junta, ousted the civilian government in a coup. Reuters 
Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of Malian junta, ousted the civilian government in a coup. Reuters 

France on Thursday said it would suspend joint military operations with Malian forces after the African country's second coup in nine months.

The move by Paris added to international pressure for the junta to return civilians to positions of power.

Junta leader Assimi Goita, who led last year's coup, removed the country's civilian transitional president and prime minister last week.

The move sparked diplomatic uproar, prompting the US to suspend assistance for Malian security forces and for the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States to suspend Mali.

The French Defence Ministry said on Thursday that "requirements and red lines have been set by Ecowas and the African Union to clarify the framework for the political transition in Mali".

"While awaiting these guarantees, France has decided to suspend, as a temporary measure, joint military operations with Malian forces and national advisory missions for their benefit," it said.

"These decisions will be re-evaluated in the coming days in the light of answers provided by the Malian authorities."

Violent insurgency in the Sahel

Earlier on Thursday, the International Organisation of La Francophonie, a co-operative body that represents mainly French-speaking states around the world, suspended Mali.

The African nation and France play key roles in the fight against a violent insurgency in the Sahel region.

France has about 5,100 troops in the Sahel under its Barkhane operation, which spans Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The Barkhane force, which was set up after France intervened to fend off an extremist advance in Mali in 2013, will continue to operate on its own for now, the ministry said.

But the French-led Takuba force, established in March 2020 to enable European special forces to train the Mali Army to fight extremists, will be suspended.

A diplomatic source said last week there was a risk that the coup could dissuade European countries from joining Takuba.

A military official in Mali said Malian authorities had been told of France's suspension.

French President Emmanuel Macron at the weekend said France would pull its troops out of Mali if it moved towards radical Islamism after the coup.

"Radical Islamism in Mali with our soldiers there? Never," he told the weekly newspaper Journal du Dimanche.

Even before the latest coup, France was considering withdrawing its troops from the costly and dangerous Sahel mission in the run-up to next year's presidential election.

Mr Macron said in February that there would be no troop reduction in the immediate future, but left the door open to cutting the size of France's force, with plans to be approved this month.

"Beyond taking a principled position, one wonders whether this decision is not a way for France to let disengaging with Barkhane enter the narrative," said Elie Tenenbaum, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations.

"In other words, is [Mali] not respecting the democratic process not a pretext to reduce an arrangement whose days were counted anyway?"

Mr Goita became vice president after leading a coup last August, which removed democratically elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after mass protests against perceived corruption and the insurgency.

Updated: June 4, 2021 04:35 PM

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