Wednesday, January 19

France gives up in Mali. The Russians are ready to move in.

Russian mercenaries can fill the void left by French troops in North Africa. This worries the EU and the Norwegian authorities.

On December 4 last year, this bus was attacked by rebels in the town of Bankass.

For nine years, French troops have led an international alliance in the fight against Islamist extremists in Mali and neighboring countries.

When President François Hollande sent in the soldiers in 2013, it was with solid support from the locals. They hoped that French soldiers with the help of other European and African countries would crush the terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and IS.

In addition to France, both the EU and the UN have forces in Mali.

France is now reducing its efforts. The matches did not go as planned. The support from the locals is like evaporated.

“Right now our relationship is broken,” said Mali’s Minister of Trade Mahmoud Ould Mohamed The Financial Times.

In September, Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Maiga was in the UN General Assembly. Then he complained that France has failed Mali.

France responds to the criticism by pointing out that Mali has experienced two military coups in less than a year. And that the current government lacks legitimacy. President Emmanuel Macron says French soldiers can not do the job for Malian soldiers.

In Mali, the French’s popularity fell further earlier this autumn, after 19 civilians were killed in an air strike.

In September, another French soldier was buried after losing his life in Mali. A total of 53 French soldiers have lost their lives in the conflict.

Dealer with mercenaries

The old colonial power France entered Mali to contribute to the fight against the extremists. The force has consisted of 5,000 soldiers. Now 2,000 of them are being sent home. The rest are drawn south, especially towards the capital Bamako. This is partly because the rebels are now active around the big cities in the south.

“We are training Malian forces to hold the positions and ask for air support,” a French captain recently told the French the news agency AFP.

He rigged the French camp in the northern city of Timbuktu. No one believes that the national forces are ready to fight alone.

Financial Times wrote about the withdrawal under the headline “How France lost Mali: They failed to defeat the threat of the jihadists and open the door for Russia.”

Swaps gold for soldiers

Mali’s current government came to power in a coup in May. They overthrew a government that seized power in September last year.

Now the country’s European alliance partners are deeply concerned about the void left by the French soldiers.

Mali negotiates with the so-called Wagner group. It is often referred to as a “Russian military company”. In other words, mercenaries with ties to Vladimir Putin’s government.

According to former CIA agent Michael Shurkin, the Russians must get gold mines paid for.

“People are convinced that France will steal their natural resources,” Shurkin told The Financial Times.

– At the same time, they turn to the Russians, who do not hide that this is what they want.

Mali’s government has denied using Russian mercenaries, writes Reuters. Instead, they claim that Russian instructors are training the defense through a bilateral agreement.

The EU and Norway warn

Two weeks ago, the EU adopted harsh sanctions against eight individuals with ties to Wagner. Mercenaries are accused of gross human rights violations. They have been active in Ukraine, Libya and Syria.

According to Politico it was France who pushed to punish Wagner. The background is the danger that the Russians are on their way into Mali.

On Christmas Eve, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement stating that they share the concern.

– It is highly regrettable that Mali’s transitional government has decided to engage security forces from the Wagner group, says State Secretary Eivind Vad Petersson.

Norway also joins the EU sanctions.

– The Wagner Group’s presence in Mali will be negative for the security situation there. A more unstable security situation will again aggravate the humanitarian situation in one of Africa’s most troubled and impoverished countries. This could also have negative ripple effects on the peace process in the country and create challenges for efforts under the auspices of the UN and others that contribute to stabilization in Mali, says State Secretary Eivind Vad Petersson.

In 2019, Erna Solberg and Minister of Defense Frank Bakke-Jensen visited the Norwegian soldiers in Mali. Now it is uncertain what will happen to the Norwegian effort.

Swedish concern

Since 2013, Norway has had a small group of soldiers in Mali. Nine Norwegians run a camp just outside the capital Bamako. In addition, there are six officers.

In addition, Norwegian transport aircraft have been deployed on three occasions.

Sweden’s commitment is much greater. More than 100 Swedish soldiers are participating in the international forces.

The Swedish Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvist is deeply concerned. He fears that the Russians will fill the void. While the opposition in Swedish politics will draw the soldiers home to Sweden, Hultqvist says Today’s News that it will be a bad solution.

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