French forces withdraw from Tessalit base amid retreat in northern Mali

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France has returned control of the Tessalit base to the Malian army, military officials announced on Tuesday as part of plans to reorganize French forces deployed in the troubled Sahel region as part of “Operation Barkhane. “.

The northern base is the second French outpost to be evacuated after the Kidal base was handed over to the Malian army in October. A third base, in Timbuktu, will be closed by the end of the year.

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

“The idea is not to create a vacuum. The idea is to leave the responsibility for these areas to the Malian state,” said General Etienne du Peyroux of the French force Barkhane, speaking after the withdrawal. from Kidal last month. “To avoid the risk of getting bogged down in conflict, we need a response that is not just military.

France, the former colonial power, intervened in Mali in January 2013 to stop a blitz campaign by jihadist and Tuareg forces that threatened to invade the capital, Bamako. But after eight years of war against jihadist militants, parts of Malian territory remain beyond the control of the authorities.

>> France responds to claim that it is “abandoning” Mali by withdrawing its troops

Relations between France and a military junta that seized power last year in Mali have deteriorated in recent months, with Mali’s transitional authorities accusing the French of “abandoning” the country.

The military junta cited Barkhane’s withdrawal from northern Mali to justify its negotiations with the controversial Russian mercenary group Wagner, a move that angered France even more.

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