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France resumes military operations with Mali amid terror threat

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By Euronews with agencies
French Barkhane force commandos mount a machine gun on a camouflaged pickup as Malian workers drive by before heading on a mission from their base in Gao, Mali, June 7, 2021.
French Barkhane force commandos mount a machine gun on a camouflaged pickup as Malian workers drive by before heading on a mission from their base in Gao, Mali, June 7, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP
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Just one month after Paris suspended bilateral cooperation with Mali following a coup in the West African nation, France said on Friday that it would resume joint military operations with Bamako after all.

"Following consultations with the Malian transitional authorities and the countries of the region (...) France decided to resume joint military operations as well as national advisory missions, which had been suspended since June 3," the French Defence Ministry said in a statement.

The statement cited the terror threat as the reason for the resumption of operations.

"The objectives of terrorist groups are the establishment, throughout West Africa, of radical Islamism as well as the regression of freedoms and human rights. France remains fully committed to opposing them with its European and American allies, alongside Sahel countries and international missions," the French Defence Ministry said.

Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the official end of Operation Barkhane, a seven-year mission against jihadist groups linked to al-Qaida and the so-called Islamic State group in the Sahel.

The European country is preparing to reduce its more than 5,000 troops in the coming months.

France instead will step up its involvement in Takuba, an international task force with the participation of other European countries.

Meanwhile, more emphasis will be placed on African regional partners to patrol the Sahel.

But the shift takes place amid a worsening political and security crisis in the region. In May, Mali underwent its second coup in less than a year.

Recent attacks in Burkina Faso and Niger have furthermore sparked concern that France's withdrawal will create a vacuum that will benefit jihadist groups.

Speaking about the upcoming end of Barkhane, Defence Minister Parly said on Friday: "This transformation does not mean we're leaving the Sahel, nor that we are going to slow down our counterterrorism operations" in the region.

"We, Europeans, have a collective responsibility to secure the southern flank of Europe. It is essential not to allow the Sahel and more broadly Africa to become a shelter and expansion area for these terrorist groups," she added.

Takuba currently includes 600 troops in Mali. While half are French, the international task force also relies on Estonian, Czech, Swedish and Italian soldiers. Romania has pledged to contribute.