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French army: last group of soldiers has left Mali

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NICE, France (UKTN) — The last French army unit left Mali on Monday, according to a statement from the French military, nine years after Paris sent troops to the West African country to oust Islamist extremists from power.

The French armed forces completed their withdrawal from Mali six months after French President Emmanuel Macron announced his plan to withdraw from the country following tensions with the ruling junta.

Tensions have also increased over the past year between Mali, its African neighbors and the European Union after Mali’s transitional government allowed Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group to deploy on its territory.

The last contingent of French soldiers of the so-called Barkhane Force, present on Malian territory, crossed neighboring Niger on Monday afternoon, the French army said. They were based in Gao in northern Mali, a region ravaged by jihadist violence.

France had about 4,300 troops in the Sahel region, including 2,400 in Mali, in February when Macron announced the withdrawal. With French army units from Mali, “the Barkhane force has been reorganized outside the country,” the French army statement said on Monday, adding that the “major logistical challenge has been addressed in an orderly and secure manner, in coordination with all its partners.”

Macron has previously said the “heart” of the French operation will be moved to Niger, especially in the region bordering Burkina Faso. The so-called Barkhane force is also involved in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

French troops have been active in Mali since 2013, when they intervened to oust Islamist extremists from power. But the insurgents regrouped in the desert and began to attack the Malian army and its allies. An August 2020 coup led by Colonel Assimi Goita seized power in Mali. Goita staged a second coup last year, firing civilian leaders in the Malian transitional government and putting himself in charge.

Following the announcement of Macron’s military withdrawal in February, European leaders also said an EU-led military task force known as Takuba is also withdrawing from Mali. They criticized the Malian junta for hiring the Wagner Group, which the EU has accused of inciting violence and committing human rights abuses in Africa.

Macron and other European leaders have repeatedly said that the military withdrawals from Mali will not lead to the abandonment of the people of the Sahel region in their fight against Islamist extremists.

After leaving Mali, “French armed forces are continuing the fight against terrorism in the Sahel, working closely with our African and international partners,” the French military statement said.

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