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World French military suspension in Mali hits a struggling army

19:30  07 june  2021
19:30  07 june  2021 Source:   afp.com

Mali coup leader says new PM to be appointed within days

  Mali coup leader says new PM to be appointed within days Colonel Assimi Goita’s announcement comes amid rising international pressure on Mali’s ruling military administration. Soldiers detained President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane on Monday, before releasing them on Thursday after they resigned. But the twin arrests triggered a diplomatic uproar – and marked the second apparent coup within a year in the unstable country. August putsch Ndaw and Ouane had led a transitional government tasked with steering the return to civilian rule after a coup last August that toppled Mali’s elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

France's decision to freeze joint military operations with Mali following the country's second coup in nine months is a major blow to a weak army fighting ruthless, highly mobile jihadists.

map: France's Operation Barkhane and other international forces in the Sahel © Gillian HANDYSIDE France's Operation Barkhane and other international forces in the Sahel

The defence ministry in Paris last week announced a "temporary" suspension in military advice and joint operations pending "guarantees" that Mali's ruling military -- which has booted out civilian leaders in charge of a transitional government -- will stage elections in February 2022.

a man in a military vehicle: Surveillance: A soldier with France's Operation Barkhane launches a mini-drone © MICHELE CATTANI Surveillance: A soldier with France's Operation Barkhane launches a mini-drone

Mali's troops depend crucially on the logistical muscle, air power and surveillance provided by France's 5,100-man Barkhane force in the Sahel.

France’s Macron threatens to pull troops out of Mali

  France’s Macron threatens to pull troops out of Mali French president says Paris will withdraw soldiers if Mali lurches towards what he called “radical Islamism” after coup.France has about 5,100 troops in the region under its so-called Operation Barkhane which spans five countries in the Sahel – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Emmanuel Macron wearing a suit and tie: French President Emmanuel Macron is under pressure at home to scale back Barkhane -- the operation is nearly eight years old and claimed the lives of more than 50 French troops © Francois Mori French President Emmanuel Macron is under pressure at home to scale back Barkhane -- the operation is nearly eight years old and claimed the lives of more than 50 French troops

A Malian army official said the decision began to have an impact on Mali's armed forces as soon as it took effect on Friday.

Barkhane has been operating since 2014, taking over from Operation Serval, which was launched to force out jihadists who had taken over northern Mali after a local rebellion broke out.

On the ground, French troops have often worked hand-in-hand with Malian counterparts in the north and centre of the country.

Some of their operations have been large-scale and weeks-long -- missions that typically do not inflict major casualties but have "disrupted the enemy, forcing them to move and expose their flank" to targeted attacks, a Malian source said.

ECOWAS suspends Mali over second coup in nine months

  ECOWAS suspends Mali over second coup in nine months West African leaders condemn coup and call for a return to democracy, but stop short of imposing new sanctions. © President of Ghana and Chair of the ECOWAS Nana Akufo-Addo, (centre), addresses dignitaries at the E...

a ship on the water with smoke coming out of it: French troops also provide escort protection for Malian road convoys © MICHELE CATTANI French troops also provide escort protection for Malian road convoys

A French diplomat in the capital Bamako said that, in day-to-day terms, the suspension meant French forces in northern Mali "stay in their bases".

A French-initiated international alliance of European special forces in Mali called Task Force Takuba has also suspended work with Malian forces, French military HQ said.

The French suspension applies also to working with Malian units with the G5 Sahel -- a regional five-nation combined force backed by Paris -- and to training Malian forces in shooting and disarming land mines and other tasks.

- Goita's promises -

On Monday, military strongman Colonel Assimi Goita stood by the trajectory set under the interim government -- a key demand set by Mali's regional neighbours and France.

He vowed that Mali would "uphold all its commitments" and stage "credible, fair and transparent elections according to the scheduled dates" -- a reference to the February 2022 deadline set by the transitional government.

Dialogue, place in power ...: Is there a role to play for jihadists in Mali?

 Dialogue, place in power ...: Is there a role to play for jihadists in Mali? © RFI A Jihadist camp repented to Mopti in the center of Mali (image of illustration). Mali is still waiting for the announcement of the appointment of its new Prime Minister. More than a week after the arrest by the soldiers of Colonel Assimi Goïta of the former President and Prime Minister of the Transition, the country is still in uncertainty.

But Mali's partners will closely scrutinise what this means in real terms.

They will look at his choice of a prime minister for enacting these promises.

He has named Choguel Kokalla Maiga, a leader with the opposition M5 movement.

Maiga is close to religious leader Mahmoud Dicko, who has repeatedly spoken in favour of talking to the jihadists -- a position fiercely opposed by France.

- French support -

Under-equipped and poorly-trained, burdened by successive coups, Mali's army has paid a heavy price in the nine-year-old struggle with jihadists.

Hundreds have died, many of them in lightning strikes on their camps by jihadists arriving by motorbike.

The French mission has jet fighters and drones at a base near Niamey, the capital of neighbouring Niger, as well as access to French military satellites and intelligence provided by allies.

French air resources are used to support Malian attacks and evacuate wounded, and French troops carry out unsung logistical tasks such as supplying water or escorting Malian troop convoys.

Without French and Takuba backing, Malian operations are likely to be "extremely reduced -- base protections, patrols around the immediate perimeter of camps, logistical convoys," said Raphael Bernard, a former Barkhane officer.

A Malian military expedition in the centre of the country had returned to Bamako given the lack of French support, a Malian army official said Friday.

"Insurgent groups will feel strengthened" by the repeat crises in Bamako and by "a possible abandonment, temporarily or permanently" by Barkhane or Takuba, said Malian expert Boubacar Ba.

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Mali’s M5 opposition rallies in support of military gov’t .
Army expected to name an M5 movement figure as prime minister after the transitional government was deposed last month.The rally on Friday was held in Independence Square in Bamako to commemorate the founding of the movement, which powered mass protests last year.

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