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Mali: Nationalists welcome withdrawal of last French Barkhane forces

Malian civil society organisation Yerewolo - Debout sur les remparts   -  
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The leaders of "Yerewolo - Debout sur les remparts", a Malian civil society organisation, reputedly close to the junta and campaigning for the removal of foreign forces present in the country, welcome the complete departure of French Barkhane forces in Mali.

After nine years of French involvement, the group considers the Barkhane military operation in the Sahel and Sahara to have "failed miserably in the fight against terrorism". 

"Thomas Sankara was a wise man when he said that only the struggle liberates. And today, after nine years of relentless struggle, Barkhane is out and MINUSMA (ed: United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) must follow." says Adama Ben Diarra, leader of Yerewolo - Debout sur les remparts.

Diarra stressed that Operation Barkhane failed miserably in the fight against terrorism. "it is very logical that the Malian people are mobilising to demand the departure of this occupying force. But there is no hatred, no anti-French feelings, none of that."

French forces have been supporting Mali against insurgents for nearly a decade, but President Emmanuel Macron decided to pull out after France and the Malian junta fell out in the wake of a military takeover.

After ties ruptured between Paris and the junta that took power in Mali in August 2020, France began to withdraw its troops in February, as jihadist violence surged in the Sahel.

Friction developed over the junta's delays in restoring civilian rule and escalated when Mali brought in Russian paramilitaries -- personnel described by France as "mercenaries" from the pro-Kremlin Wagner group.

"It is clear that the departure of Barkhane from Mali under these conditions can generate some concerns, particularly in relation to the fact that whatever the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of this operation, it occupied a place and this place will have to be reoccupied by Mali and the Malian defence forces." Baba Dakono, secretary general, Citizens' Observatory on Governance and Security says.

But the positive side, he notes is that "this finally allows the Malian state to take responsibility for the security issue, because with the presence of Barkhane we could... there was a certain form or feeling of disengagement of the Malian state on its own security issue."

- 'Prevented caliphate' -

Macron on Monday congratulated the military on its nine years in Mali, saying it had "prevented the establishment of a territorial caliphate, and fought against terrorists that attack local populations and threaten Europe".

Most high-ranking members of the "terrorist groups" had been "neutralised", he said, adding that 59 French soldiers had died in Mali in total.

More than 2,000 civilians have been killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso since the start of the year, according to an AFP tally based on the findings of non-governmental organisation ACLED.

At its peak, France's Barkhane mission had 5,100 troops among five Sahel allies, all former French colonies -- Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The forces have provided key support in air power, troop transport and reconnaissance. France has an air base in Niger's capital Niamey where it has deployed drones.

After the Malian pullout, the mission will have "around 2,500" troops, Barkhane commander General Laurent Michon said last month.

The reconfigured mission will emphasise "more cooperative operations," he said.

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