French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday suggested France will pull troops from Mali if the country’s institutional instability persists and inhibits the fight against Islamic extremists.
Macron told a news conference that “our priority in Mali is the fight against terrorism and the presence of our forces on the ground is not enough in this fight. It also requires the strengthening of stable and legitimate institutions.”
France has more than 5,000 troops in Africa’s Sahel region.
Macron’s comments come a day after West African leaders suspended Mali from their regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, over what they said amounted to a coup last week.
ECOWAS called for a new civilian prime minister to be nominated immediately, a new inclusive government to be formed and the 18-month transition of power leading to February 2022 elections to be carried out, saying a monitoring mechanism will be put in place to assure this.
“Neither France nor its partners are committed to getting involved (in Mali) if the ECOWAS demands are not respected,” Macron said.
Germany, which has several hundred soldiers taking part in the U.N. stabilization and European Union training missions in Mali, sees the need to continue those deployments, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in the joint news conference with Macron via videoconference.
She added, however, that there were “red lines” including the need to hold elections and for there to be no contact with Islamist forces, including by Mali’s current president.
She and Macron had agreed to have a “very, very close exchange” about developments in Mali and “if there is a situation (…) in which we see red lines are crossed, then we will coordinate our actions closely.”
A power vacuum amid a 2012 coup d’etat unleashed years of chaos in Mali and allowed Islamic extremists to seize control of northern towns. Ultimately, a French-led military operation ousted the jihadis from strongholds in 2013, but they have regrouped and since expanded their reach.