France calls off military cooperation with Mali as precaution

France has temporarily called off joint military operations with the Malian army following a coup in the West African nation that led to its suspension by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union.

According to local media reports, France’s Defense Ministry announced late Thursday that it was suspending military cooperation as a “precautionary and temporary measure.”

A report by the BFMTV news channel quoting the press statement said “requirements and red lines have been set” by ECOWAS and the African Union to “clarify the framework of the political transition in Mali,” and “pending these guarantees, France…has decided to suspend, as a precautionary and temporary measure, joint military operations with the Malian forces as well as the national advisory missions for their benefit.”

“These decisions will be re-evaluated in the coming days, in light of answers provided by the Malian authorities,” the ministry said according to a report in the French daily Le Monde.

The announcement comes in the wake of the May 24 coup which forced Mali’s transitional President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane to resign and brought Colonel Assimi Goita to power.

French President Emmanuel Macron had called the military coup “unacceptable” and threatened to impose sanctions against the protagonists.

The Defense Ministry’s stance follows Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s statement on May 31 that compliance with the conditions set by ECOWAS, including organizing presidential elections on Feb. 27, 2022 and setting up a monitoring mechanism for the transition period, is the “precondition for maintaining the commitment of Mali’s partners and supporting the transition.”

France is involved in various security engagements in Mali with direct military operations as well as training and capacity building activities of the Malian security forces. Its aim is to prevent the Sahel region from “becoming a long-term hotbed of instability for terrorist groups and of various forms of trafficking in drugs, weapons or people, or migrant smuggling, which could also threaten its own security.”

In 2013, it launched Operation Serval to push back Muslim terrorist groups from taking over large swathes of territory in northern Mali. Under Operation Barkhane, some 5,100 French military personnel are deployed in the Sahel region to conduct military operations, train and support the forces of the G5 countries.

According to reports, Operation Barkhane will continue to function independently despite the suspension of military cooperation. However, the Takuba special joint force launched last year involving several European countries to advise, assist and accompany Malian forces will be discontinued.

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