The suspension by France of its military operations with the Malian army began to be reflected on the ground, pending “guarantees” demanded from Colonel Assimi Goïta after two coups d’état in nine months in this crucial country for the stability of the Sahel.
“Joint Barkhane / FAMa operations are stopped, the French continue alone,” said an official at the Malian staff, referring to the French anti-jihadist force and the Malian Armed Forces. A Malian military mission has just returned from Sévaré (Center) to Bamako for this reason, the official said on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the subject. The European force Takuba, initiated by France, “also refuses the ground elements of the FAMa in Ménaka” (North-East), he added.
A “protective and temporary” measure while “awaiting guarantees”
Ten days after Colonel Goïta’s second coup, Paris announced Thursday evening to suspend joint operations with Malian forces, with which it has cooperated for years against the jihadists. Consulting assignments are also put on hold.
It is a “conservative and temporary” measure while “awaiting guarantees” that the Malian colonels will return power to civilians after elections scheduled for February 2022, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces said. The colonels had committed themselves to it after the coup d’état of August 18, 2020. But they had also committed themselves under international pressure to a period of transition led by civilians.
This commitment was trampled on on May 24 when Assimi Goïta, who remained the real strongman under a civilian dress of the transition, had the president and the prime minister arrested. Assimi Goïta has since been declared president of the transition by the Constitutional Court.
Barkhane continues his solo action
No public reaction was obtained from the junta to the French decision. All the precise implications of the French punch on the table remain to be clarified.
Barkhane, with 5,100 soldiers in the Sahel, will continue its action, but for the time being alone, said the French ministry. This could mainly concern air operations (planes, helicopters, drones).
The French force will also continue to strike the jihadist leaders if possible but, on the ground, Barkhane no longer leaves its bases because it does not do so without the Malian army, indicates a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.
Cooperation with the Malian forces is one of the pillars of French action in Mali.
“These decisions will be reassessed in the days to come”
“These decisions will be reassessed in the coming days in the light of the answers that will be provided by the Malian authorities,” said the French ministry.
France and Mali’s partners should pay close attention to speeches and developments in the coming days, starting with a gathering scheduled for Friday afternoon, at the call of the so-called June 5 movement, probable future partner government of Colonel Goïta.
Monday, Colonel Goïta should be invested before the Constitutional Court. This ceremony is considered to lift the blockage on the appointment of a Prime Minister who, claiming France as a large part of the international community, must be a civilian.
The M5 back in the game
Colonel Goïta has said he intends to hand over the post to the June 5 Movement / Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5 / RFP).
This heterogeneous collective had taken the lead in 2020 of months of protest completed in August by the putsch deposing President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. After the putsch, the M5 had in vain demanded to be treated as an equal by the military in setting up the transition.
The M5 had found itself weakened and divided. He had harshly criticized the course taken by the transition. Colonel Goïta recalled it in the game. The M5 chose a veteran, Choguel Kokalla Maïga, for the post of Prime Minister.
Worries and Concerns
This choice has raised concerns. Choguel Kokalla Maïga is known as a strong critic of the 2015 peace agreement with former rebels from the North, the application of which is deemed essential to get the country out of turmoil.
The questioning of the commitments made by Colonel Goïta and the positioning of Choguel Kokalla Maïga are not the only reasons for concern for the partners of Mali. They wonder about the place that will be given to the conservative Imam Mahmoud Dicko.
Imam Dicko, tutelary figure of the 2020 protest, has distanced himself from the M5 since. But, like the colonels, he is in favor of dialogue with certain jihadists, rejected by Paris.
Mali’s partners will be attentive to its possible presence at the gathering on Friday, as well as to the tone of the speeches.