“The idea is not to create a vacuum”

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France has started to withdraw its troops from its northernmost Malian bases, as part of plans to reorganize its forces deployed in the troubled Sahel region as part of “Operation Barkhane”.

The bases of the French army 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 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. “To avoid the risk of getting bogged down in conflict, we need a response that is not just military.

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

After eight years of war against jihadist militants, entire swathes of Malian territory remain beyond the control of the authorities.

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

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

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