France’s imminent military withdrawal from Mali has bleak echoes of the West’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, François Brousseau said in Le Devoir (Montreal). Paris first sent troops to Mali in 2013 to defeat jihadists threatening to take over the West African nation; but the mission turned into a nine-year struggle against the militants. Now a diplomatic collapse between France and the military junta that toppled Mali’s elected government in 2020 has prompted President Macron to announce his 2,400 troops there will be gone by the summer.
Paris claim exit is not defeat; but the situation in the Sahel suggests that things have not gone well. The Sahel, the semi-arid region south of the Sahara, is teeming with Islamist militants; a “bitter turf war” rages between factions close to Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Interethnic conflicts add to the chaos. Around 20,000 people have been killed in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger since 2015. But now France is “leaving Mali alone” for fear of being “thrown out” if it stays.
France has won some tactical victories during its nine-year campaign, Zéphirin Kpoda said in L’Observateur Paalga (Ouagadougou): Thousands of militants have been killed in the region, including several prominent figures from Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. But it comes at a high cost: France spent about €1 billion a year on its mission in the Sahel and lost 59 of its troops.
Greeted with chants of “Vive La France!” When they first invaded Mali, French forces soon lost public support, Mucahid Durmaz said Al Jazeera (Doha). The tricolor was considered a “neo-colonial symbol”; and when the junta expelled the French ambassador from the country in January, Paris decided to leave.
The last straw for Macron, he said The Wall Street Journal, was Mali’s decision to invite 1,000 mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group. The guns-for-hire group, with close ties to Putin’s regime, has “propped up dictators from Venezuela to Syria” and has a history of human rights abuses. Now the Kremlin has seen an opportunity to expand its influence “across resource-rich Africa” by protecting leaders who employ its mercenaries in exchange for lucrative mining opportunities.
Russia lays claim to one of the world’s most oil- and mineral-rich regions, Benoît Delmas said in Le point (Paris) and invites himself into an area that the West no longer wants to protect. It’s “a boon” for the Kremlin, but it won’t stem the “terrorist contagion” sweeping the Sahel.
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/world-news/africa/955968/france-withdrawal-mali-victory-for-kremlin France’s withdrawal from Mali: a victory for the Kremlin?