France on Thursday announced it is withdrawing its troops from Mali, where they have been fighting Islamic extremists for nine years.
A joint statement issued ahead of an EU-Africa summit in Brussels said it desires to continue to engage in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel.
European leaders simultaneously announced Thursday that troops from a EU-led military task force known as Takuba also would withdraw from Mali.
The allies said they want to extend the geographical scope of their support, including to the countries of the Gulf of Guinea.
Macron accused Mali’s ruling military junta of neglecting the fight against Jihadists and said it was logical for France to withdraw since its role is not to replace a sovereign state on the battlefield.
“Victory against terror is not possible if it’s not supported by the state itself,” the French leader told a press conference with EU and African Union officials.
Since 2012, Mali has struggled to contain an extremist insurgency. Rebels were forced from power in northern cities the next year with the help of a French-led military operation. But the insurgents regrouped in the desert and began attacking the Malian army and its allies.
France’s Barhane force has about 4,300 troops in the Sahel region, including 2,400 in Mali, a former French colony.
Macron said the French pullout would be done “in an orderly manner” in coordination with the Malian military.
France will start by closing military bases in the north of Mali, and the withdrawal will take four to six months, he said.
Colonel Assimi Goita grabbed power in Mali in August 2020. He also carried out a second coup by dismissing the civilian leaders in Mali’s transitional government and putting himself in charge last year.
Macron blamed the junta now ruling the country for its decision to hire the Wagner Group, which the EU accuses of fomenting violence and committing human rights abuses in the Central African Republic, Libya and Syria.
“They have now come to Mali to act in a very predatory manner,” Macron said. He asserted there are some 800 Wagner mercenaries present in the country who “have mostly come to secure their economic interests.”
Macron promised to help secure the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali before leaving.