The French Minister of the Armies, Florence Parly, is, Monday, September 20, in Mali, where the transitional government dominated by the military plans to join the services of the Russian paramilitary company Wagner. A choice that arouses tensions with Paris, which reduces its military presence in the country.
“My objective is to succeed in clarifying the position of the Malian authorities and to reiterate messages”, explained the minister before meeting, Monday, his Malian counterpart, Colonel Sadio Camara. “We will not be able to live with mercenaries”, she warned.
Recourse to Wagner to train the Malian armed forces and ensure the protection of the leaders would be ” incompatible “ with the maintenance in Mali of French troops, who have been fighting jihadists in the Sahel for eight years, had already warned, Tuesday, the head of French diplomacy, Jean-Yves Le Drian.
The sulphurous Russian private company, suspected of belonging to a businessman close to the Kremlin, Evgueni Prigojine, has already concluded a contract with the Central African Republic in 2018, where it is accused of abuses and looting of mining and customs resources .
But the Malian government retorted, Sunday, in a statement, that it would not allow “For no State to make choices in its place and even less to decide which partners it can call on or not”. “There are partners who have decided to leave Mali to fall back on other countries, there are areas that are abandoned”, had argued, Thursday, Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga.
The negotiations between the junta and Wagner come, in fact, at a time when France began a reorganization of its military system in the Sahel in favor of a tightened presence, centered on targeted strikes against jihadist leaders and executives and support local armies.
The French soldiers must leave by the end of the year the bases of Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu, in northern Mali, and the number of French troops deployed in the Sahel is expected to increase from more than 5,000 men currently to “2,500 or 3,000” by 2023, according to the staff.
In addition to the Wagner case, the French authorities are concerned about the colonels’ reluctance to organize elections to return power to civilians in February 2022. “The Malian leaders probably want to extend the transition despite the commitments made to ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States)”, we fear in Paris.
“France is not leaving”
Sunday, Florence Parly began her Sahelian tour with a stop in Niamey, where she met Nigerian President Mohamed Bazoum and his defense minister Alkassoum Indatou to discuss the transformation of the French military system.
In Niger, the planned French air base in Niamey should gain more importance in the coming months, subject to the agreement of the host country, with “Combat capabilities that will allow us to intervene throughout the region”, we explain to the Ministry of the Armed Forces.
This grip of Niamey, where 700 French soldiers are deployed, currently hosts 6 French fighter planes and 6 armed drones not far from the so-called zone of “Three borders”, on the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
In this region regularly affected by attacks against civilians and soldiers, the presence of jihadist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi) or the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) has been grafted on to tensions which have existed for a long time between communities.
Sunday, Florence Parly reassured about the continuation of French efforts in Mali, and more broadly in the Sahel, despite the current reduction in personnel, while the American departure from Afghanistan at the end of August resulted in the return to power of the Taliban.
“France is not leaving”, she “Will maintain its commitment to support the Sahelian armed forces”, she stressed. “The situation remains precarious, we know it’s a long fight. “