FRANCE. Paris: The progressive worsening of the relationship between France and Mali is making the major European nation question whether to halt military backup altogether.
The French intervention in Mali began in 2013 when the transitional government of President Dioncounda Traore requested aid in combatting terrorism. Officially, the intention for intervention was announced as the deployment of French troops to Mali to help their national armed forces in preventing the Islamists from going further south.
However, with the few noticeable outcomes in nine years, the French objective is being questioned as to the protection of national security and economic interests in the Sahel and the West African region.
Sour relations between France and Mali
The situation between France and Mali has worsened in the past decade, and the intervention that was intended to combat terrorism has transcended into an eternal ethnic conflict. In various Malian regions, there are now conflicts between ethnic groups.
In the Mopti region, there is a conflict between the Fulani and the Dogans, as well as the Bambara and the Fulani. In Timkuktu and Gao, there is a conflict between the Touaregs and the Arabs on one side and on the other between the Touaregs and the Songhais.
The French government has faced several challenges, specifically in protecting civilians according to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
Moreover, France has also been accused of protecting armed separatist groups in Kidal. It is obvious that France has lost the support of the Malian government.
The tension escalates as Mali’s public opinion becomes supportive of Russian troops replacing the French to aid in combatting the problem. While the presence of the French armed forces is still strong, there is a visible arrival of the Russian military that is largely favorable. The Russian flags have been set up on roadside stalls, and occasionally pro-Russian demonstrations have occurred.
Since the French strategy has worsened the issue, they have turned to Russia, which is clearly not regarded well by the French government or the EU. Ministers in the French government have stated that the Wagner group, a collective of mercenaries that are believed to have close ties to Russia’s leadership coexisting with the French armed forces, is “unacceptable” and “incompatible.”
The sanctions imposed by the regional ECOWAS bloc on Mali, as well as the growing Western pressure, have left the government unbaffled. France has stated that its government will not make a fast decision in retracting armed forces as long as the Wagner group will not operate in the same area as the French army.
Other EU members have been more blunt, such as Germany stating that the “safety of our soldiers is our first priority,” and they will therefore not hesitate to transfer its mission in Mali to another country.
Germany currently has about 1,500 soldiers deployed in Mali as the United Nations Minusma peacekeeping mission, as well as the EU mission to train Malian soldiers.
As of now, Mali has not officially asked any of the EU member states to leave the country and stop the intervention. However, the relationship is turning increasingly sour as there is a boost of anti-French sentiment in Mali.
The transitional prime minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga has even been implicated in the re-examination of the defense agreements with France. The government has already warned that it will block military flights surrounding its airspace after blaming France for a “clear breach” of its airspace following the flight of a French military jet.
If such a block occurs, this will limit the French armed forces’ operational capabilities and only push them more towards leaving. However, with Russia’s presence strong on the horizon, they fear a take-over.
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