France to close military bases in the Sahel by 2022
French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Friday that France would close all military bases in the Sahel region by 2022 as part of its reconfiguration of the country’s military engagement in Africa.
Macron announced the military withdrawal, including troop reduction and base closings at a press conference with Nigerian President Mohamed Bazoum following a G5 Sahel summit in Paris.
The transition is made necessary by the end of the French operation Barkhane in the Sahel, announced by Macron last month. The redesign will involve the reduction of France’s northernmost military footprint in Mali will begin in the coming weeks and end in early 2022, Macron said.
France has troops in Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu who will be “gradually declawed”. Ultimately, there will be “between 2,500 and 3,000” soldiers in the region, compared to 5,100 currently.
Macron reiterated that even with a reduced presence, France remains “engaged in the Sahel” at the request of states in the region.
He also expressed his concern and mistrust of the political situation in Mali following the coup led by Colonel Assimi Goita, who was recently sworn in as president of a transitional government.
France resumed joint military operations in Mali after their brief suspension last month after receiving guarantees on a democratic transition from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States.
The French army will mainly focus on two missions: dismantling the presence of al-Qaeda and Daesh in the region and strengthening the armies of the G5 states by training, equipping and advising.
The fight against terrorism will be led by the European joint special force, Takuba, comprising French troops with the G5 Sahel armies from the Niamey command post.
The progress of the two missions will eventually lead to the closure of Operation Barkhane launched in August 2014.
France will however continue to maintain a military air and ground presence in Chad, which formed the base of Barkhane, allowing France to operate beyond the borders in Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. Since the 2013 intervention to prevent rebel groups from seizing northern Mali, France has stepped up its military engagement in the Sahel region.
The continued endless presence in sight saw attacks on French troops with at least 50 dead and opposition from French politicians as well as sections of African communities.
In January, a UN mission investigation accused the French army of carrying out an airstrike that killed civilians instead of armed members of terrorist groups.