President Emmanuel Macron said Friday France would start closing its bases in northern Mali before the end of the year, part of a drawdown of French troops fighting Islamist extremists in the Sahel region.
“The shutdowns of these sections will start in the second half of 2021 and be completed by early 2022,” Macron told a press conference following summit talks with the leaders of five West African nations.
Macron announced last month that he would start removing much of the 5,100-member Barkhane force in the Sahel after eight years of helping local forces stave off the threat from Islamist rebels linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
But Macron insisted France would remain a long-term partner for the G5 countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger.
After the drawdown, France will still have “2,500 to 3,000” soldiers in the region, he said.
“It’s a matter of stopping these two organisations from making the Sahel and West Africa their new territory for expansion,” Macron said at a press conference with Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum.
“But in no way are we going to take over the responsibilities and sovereignty of nations in the region, to fulfil their missions for restoring security and government services to their populations,” he said.
He added: “Our enemies have abandoned their territorial ambitions in favour of spreading their threat not only across the Sahel, but across all of West Africa.”
“Unfortunately this offensive implies increased pressure on all the Gulf of Guinea countries, which is already a reality,” he said.
Analysts have warned that the jihadist threat in the five Sahel countries could lead to increased terror threats in other nations including the Ivory Coast or Benin.
“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,” Macron said.