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President Emmanuel Macron announced that France will beging closing its military bases in northern Mali before the end of 2021, and that the move will be completed by the beginning of 2022 as the European power restructures its military presence in Africa’s Sahel.
Macron’s statement came on Friday during a summit with the G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania), clarifying that French bases in Mali’s Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu will be the ones to close.
The closures of the French bases in Mali are expected to start in the second half of the year, Macron said, and will be fully completed by 2022. He further said that troops will be withdrawn from the Sahel region in a phased manner, to about half of the current 5,100 deployment.
Macron, however, said that the former colonial power still has an interest in securing stability in the Sahel region: "France will remain committed there, but by taking a different approach," the head of state said.
“Our enemies have abandoned their territorial ambitions in favour of spreading their threat not only across the Sahel, but across all of West Africa," Macron said at a press conference with Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum.
"We are going to reorganise ourselves in line with this need to stop this spread to the south, and it will lead to a reduction of our military footprint in the north," the French president added.
President Macron says France will start closing military bases in Mali by year's end, reconfigure military presence in Africa's Sahel region within weeks pic.twitter.com/23P7pmHlP1
France began its operations against jihadist terrorists in the Sahel in 2013 under then-President Francois Hollande, as France alleged the threat to be of significance to the safety of the European continent and the West African region.
The nearly decade-long mission has not been the success it was initially hoped, as the anti-terrorism campaign has been known as "France’s Afghanistan." Islamist extremist groups in the Sahel show little sign of giving up, and domestic support in France for the military involvement is now lower than 50%, as of May of this year.
On June 10, Macron stated France’s ‘Operation Barkhane’ in Mauritania, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso would be drawn to a close and French troops would be withdrawn, as at least 50 French soldiers have died in the region since 2013.