France has announced that it will begin a military withdrawal from Mali after more than nine years fighting anti-regime rebels.
President Macron said French forces would remain in the region but would be based in neighbouring Niger, from where they could help other countries “suffering from jihadist activity.”
“The heart of this military operation will no longer be in Mali but in Niger … and perhaps in a more balanced way across all the countries of the region which want this [help],” he said.
Macron said al-Qaida and Islamic State had made the Sahel region of west Africa and the Gulf of Guinea nations “a priority for their strategy of expansion.”
There are 5,000 French troops in Mali and surrounding countries, fighting groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS.
But over the past eight years, the French presence has become increasingly unpopular with Mali’s government and its public.
France first deployed troops in Mali in 2013 to stem a rebel advance and return cities such as Timbuktu to government control.
In recent years, rebels have taken over swaths of territory in the former French colony.
Relations between France and Mali have deteriorated after two coup d’états and the new military regime’s reluctance to agree to an immediate transition to civilian rule. The French ambassador to the former colony was expelled earlier this month.
“Multiple obstructions” by the ruling junta meant conditions were no longer in place to operate in Mali, France and its African and European allies said in a statement.
The withdrawal applies to 2,400 French troops in Mali and a smaller European force of several hundred.
Mali’s armed forces spokesperson Souleymane Dembele shrugged off France’s announcement, saying European troops had failed. “I think that there has been no military solution, because terrorism has engulfed the entire territory of Mali,” he said.
But Macron denied that France’s intervention had been in vain. “What would have happened in 2013 if France had not chosen to intervene? You would for sure have had the collapse of the Malian state,” he said.