‘The idea is not to create a vacuum’


France has begun withdrawing troops from its northernmost bases in Mali, as part of plans to reorganize its forces deployed in the troubled Sahel region in the framework of “Operation Barkhane”.

The French army bases in Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu, in the north of the country, will be closed by the end of the year and handed over to the Malian army.

While air support will be maintained, the 5,100 French soldiers currently in the Sahel will be reduced to roughly 3,000. European special forces, deployed in the Takuba task force, will be in charge of supporting the Malian army in combat.

“The idea is not to create a vacuum. The idea is to leave responsibility for these areas to the state of Mali,” said General Etienne du Peyroux of the French Barkhane force. “To avoid the risk of getting stuck in conflict, we need a response that is not just military.”

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After eight years of war against jihadist militants, swathes of Mali’s territory remain outside the control of the authorities.

For Hamidou Cissé, from the Patriots of Mali group, the time has come to turn the page on the French intervention that began in 2013.

“After they arrived, we thought we would have peace,” Cissé said. “If they retire today, in six months or a year, we will suffer, but it is better to suffer than to stay in their hands forever.”