France seeks exit strategy from Mali after failed military campaign
Eight years after France sent troops to Mali to stop militants from invading the country, it faces tough choices about how to continue pursuing extremists without getting bogged down in a potentially un-winnable war.
According to a report by AFP, five have been killed by roadside bombs in Mali in the past 10 days, bringing the number of soldiers killed across the Sahel to 50 since France launched a campaign to rid northern Mali of militants in January 2013.
Among the latest victims was Sergeant Yvonne Huynh, the first female soldier killed since the start of the French intervention.
Her death on Saturday, claimed by a group linked to al-Qaeda, coincided with a massacre across the border in western Niger, where unidentified gunmen killed around 100 villagers in one of the worst atrocities in the region.
The deaths – and disputed claims Tuesday by villagers in central Mali that up to 20 wedding guests were killed in an airstrike – have clouded recent successes highlighted by France’s 5,100-member Barkhane counterterrorism force. , and its African partners.
Over the past year, the French have killed the infamous al-Qaeda leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, as well as one of the military leaders of the GSIM affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Anxious to avoid getting bogged down in a long conflict in Afghanistan, Paris is preparing to announce a withdrawal of the 600 additional soldiers it deployed in the Sahel last year.
But whether the withdrawal signals the beginning of the end of France’s mission in the Sahel is not yet clear.
Defense sources said AFP that President Emmanuel Macron wishes to go further in reducing the number of French troops in the Sahel region before the next presidential election in April / May 2022.
“So far, the French have not really questioned the role of France in the Sahel. But you have to be very careful. Public opinion can change very quickly, ”a government source said AFP.
A sign that the Sahel mission could become national political football, some opposition politicians have already started to question the wisdom of staying the course.
“War in Mali: for how long?” The far left party France Unbowed questioned Monday.