Barkhane’s last soldiers left Mali

Barkhane’s last soldiers left Mali

On Monday, August 15, the Gao base was handed over to Malian forces, ending the French presence.

Operation Barkhane in Mali has ended. The last French military unit left the country a little earlier than planned on Monday. The handover of the Gao base to the Malian armed forces (Fama), originally announced for the end of the summer, took place in the morning without celebrations or honors and left Serval with a sense of resentment and failure almost ten years after the operation began. Decided in January 2013, it made it possible to prevent Mali from collapsing in the face of an offensive by jihadist groups.

At 1 p.m. Monday, a final “combat group” crossed the border towards Niger, which is now the main French base in the Sahel. The last logistics convoy left Gao on Sunday night, transporting the last of the equipment to be repatriated or relocated. In the afternoon, staff shared the information without waiting for the men to arrive in Niamey. In any case, it would not have taken long for it to spread on social networks.

“All the conditions for the departure were met,” they tell the Federal Ministry of Defense and contradict an acceleration of the pace in recent days. “No major incident has slowed the maneuver. There was no point in staying longer,” he added. On the other hand. The deterioration of the security situation in Mali seems to have accelerated in recent weeks with an increase in attacks by jihadist groups against the Fama. Clashes in Tessit last week claimed the lives of 42 Malian soldiers. A flurry of rumors on the internet, more or less controlled, accused France of complicity. Demonstrations were organized in Gao on Sunday demanding the withdrawal of Barkhane. These mass movements, which can paralyze convoys, are feared by the military. “Either we are humiliated or we don’t allow it, but there are consequences,” observed a senior official earlier this summer. In Téra (Niger) civilians died in anti-French demonstrations last year.

New goals

It has been six months since President Emmanuel Macron’s decision on February 17 for Barkhane to withdraw from Mali. “This great logistical military challenge was managed in good condition and in safety, as well as in full transparency and in coordination with all partners,” commented the staff soberly in their press release, while the Élysée paid tribute to the soldiers dedicated more than nine years in the Sahel and the 59 who lost their lives there. “In these (nine) years, our soldiers have preserved Mali’s unity, prevented the establishment of a territorial caliphate and fought against terrorist groups that are attacking the local population and threatening Europe,” adds the Elysée.

On the Gao “platform of operations”, which could count up to 2500 soldiers out of the maximum 5500 in Barkhane, there are only the “Bastion Walls”, the sandbags used for fortifications, and a few buildings in Hard. An inspection of the warehouse, a pre-relocation inventory, was conducted last week. The Fama will be able to take possession of the premises as well as Wagner’s Russian mercenaries, who have been supporting them for almost a year, for the long term. The private militia numbers a thousand men in Mali today. Their violent clashes with terrorist groups are paying a high price for the local population. The deployment of Wagner’s forces was the ultimate provocation by the ruling junta in Bamako since August 2020, triggering the French withdrawal.

We are at a turning point. Anti-French and anti-Western sentiment is a reality

General Burkhard

But France has not been welcome in Mali for months. “We are at a turning point. Anti-French and anti-Western sentiments are a reality,” the chief of defense staff, General Burkhard, confided to some journalists in early July, explaining France’s new goals in the Sahel. First “to continue the fight against terrorism” from Niger and Burkina Faso, he explained. Operations are no longer carried out in Mali, leaving the Fama and Wagner alone against their opponents. Then, “to enhance support for the countries of the Gulf of Guinea,” he continued, worrying about the spread of the terrorist threat southward. Jihadist groups are “testing the device” of states, a military source confided a few weeks ago. However, the form of this cooperation has yet to be clarified. Finally, General Burkhard set the ambition to fight against Russian influence in the Sahel.

The departure of Barkhane from Mali does not mean the end of the French presence in the region. Around 2,500 soldiers will remain distributed between Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso until further notice. A new chapter is being opened in the fight against jihadist groups, in which France no longer wants to be at the forefront.

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