Finally, the last French armed forces officially pulled out of Mali and, moved to Niger following a disagreement with the Mali military authority that was premised on the alleged use of Russian mercenaries.
French armed forces ministry disclosed this in a press statement made available to newsmen in Mali.
Part of the statement reads, “The last military unit of the Barkhane Force present on Malian territory crossed the border between Mali and Niger,” at 11:00 A.M. local time Monday”.
It would be recalled that the French army initially intervened in Mali in 2013, in Operation Serval, after northern Mali was taken over by Islamist militant groups in 2012.
But Operation Serval was replaced by the anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane in 2014. Operation Barkhane will now be based in Niger.
Though former French President François Hollande received a warm welcome in newly-liberated Timbuktu on arrival in 2013, the Malian public has turned sour toward French forces in recent years, with several protests held in cities across Mali calling for the forces’ departure.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced in February that French forces would withdraw over a period of 4-6 months, amid increasing tensions between France and Mali’s military government and France’s accusations that Mali is working with mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary company with links to the Kremlin.
Human Rights Watch and several international media outlets have reported on alleged extrajudicial killings and abuses committed by Russian mercenaries in Mali.
Mali’s military government has continually denied the accusations and says it only works with official Russian instructors.
Meanwhile, 2022 has been one of the deadliest so far in Mali’s decade-long conflict, with both civilians and soldiers targeted by Islamists.
Forty-two Malian soldiers were killed this month during an attack in Tessit, and Mali’s main military base in Kati, just 15 kilometres from Bamako was attacked in July.
In June, 132 civilians were murdered by suspected Islamists in an attack in central Mali.
Mali also experienced tensions with its West African neighbours this year, with regional bloc ECOWAS imposing sanctions after military rulers proposed a -year delay in elections. The sanctions were lifted in July after elections were scheduled for 2024.
However, Senegalese President Macky Sall met with Malian interim President Assimi Goita Monday morning in Bamako for the first time since the military government took power in a 2020 coup.