Since 2012, there has been a power struggle between the central government, separatists and Islamists in Mali. As early as 2013, France launched an operation in Mali to counter armed separatist groups. At least half of the 5 European soldiers who have been in Mali since 000 will now be relocated to surrounding countries.
In recent months, military junta around West Africa has gained a tougher grip on the civilian population. Under the leadership of Assimi Goïta, the military in Mali seized power after a coup in May 2021. They formed a transitional government that was accepted by, among others, the West African Economic Cooperation Organization ECOWAS, but it was met with sharp criticism from the outside world. In response to the criticism promised the military to quickly reintroduce various democratic principles. Among other things, would general election held in February 2022. However, these were postponed to the future when the transitional government proposed a transition period of five years.
Between 2020 and 2021, the number of attacks on civilian targets in Mali is estimated have increased by 70 percent. Peace and conflict researchers also estimate that the number of deaths has increased to 594 in 2020, compared to 96 pieces in 2019, as a result of the unrest in the country which has also driven thousands people on the run.
The transitional government's offensive actions
It was in February that French President Emmanuel Macron announced that the French-clad task forces Takuba Task Force and Barkhane withdraws the forces stationed in Mali since early 2020. The task force consists of soldiers from France and from fourteen European allied countries and Canada. Takuba was established to support Operation Barkhane, who has opposed the jihadists' progress in the Sahel region since 2013. Already after the coup in May last year, Macron made clear how he views the future of the operation due to the changed political situation in the country when he said: "Radical Islamism in Mali with our soldiers there? Never".
The withdrawal of the European peacekeeping forces is made due to increased friction between the international forces and the ruling military junta, which has taken ever greater liberties. Among other things, several European ambassadors have been expelled from the country. The Transitional Government has also established close cooperation with the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group - which The development magazine wrote about in December last year. This in the hope of securing their place in power.
Dissatisfaction is increasing among the civilian population
The French effort has recently spread increased dissatisfaction among the civilian population in Mali. This has manifested itself in the form of protests in which the civilian population has expressed growing distrust of France's way of dealing with the ruling junta.
- The transitional government has received strong popular support by pointing out that it is high time for Mali to assert its sovereignty from the former colonial power, says Elin Hellquist, analyst at FOI. She continues:
- From the French side, they insist that the effort is not a failure. The reason why France is withdrawing may not have much to do with the security situation. It could just as easily have justified a strengthening of the effort. What is special now is that the political conditions are unsustainable.
February 18th commanded Assimi Goïta France to withdraw its troops without delay. The Macron government now plans to do so gradually over a period of four to six months. This is in order not to risk the security of the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA of about 15 soldiers and for EU training effort EUTM Mali, which will continue to remain in the country to strengthen the operational capability of Mali's Armed Forces.
- It is a bit unclear how this withdrawal will be handled by remaining efforts. It leaves a kind of vacuum for how MINUSMA and EUTM should be able to act. Eventually, we will be informed how the UN effort is developing and how future engagement can be thought of, says Elin Hellquist.
Sweden has participated in the peacekeeping operations in Mali in three ways. Partly through the UN operation MINUSMA, which is Sweden's largest military operation since Afghanistan in 2014, partly with a special unit Takuba Task Force since the beginning of 2020. Then the Swedish government offered to contribute a total of 150 people to the operation over a 12-month period. These are the ones who will be called home in the spring. Sweden has also contributed to the EUTM training effort.