Following in the footsteps of its European partners, Britain too has cut short its troop deployment with the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali, six months earlier than planned.
London has become the latest European capital to draw down on its troop presence in Western Africa’s Sahel region after it announced to call back its 300-strong contingent from Mali.
“I can announce that the UK contingent will... now be leaving the MINUSMA mission earlier than planned,” Defence Minister James Heappey told parliament, referring to the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali.
“Two coups in three years have undermined international efforts to advance peace. This government cannot deploy our nation’s military to provide security when the host country’s government is not willing to work with us to deliver lasting stability and security.”
Nine months after France announced its withdrawal from Mali, Ministers have finally decided to follow suit.— John Healey MP (@JohnHealey_MP) November 14, 2022
Yet we lack any UK strategy for the Sahel, which has become a new epicentre for terrorism. Ministers must fill this Sahel shaped-gap in the review of the Integrated Review pic.twitter.com/jzok9MieuN
UK’s troops withdrawal comes four days after France decided to end ‘Operation Barkhane’ in the Sahel — a categorisation used for a group of countries comprising Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Earlier in August, Germany, too, halted troops deployment “until further notice” after what Berlin called destabilisation of the region by Russian-backed Wagner group mercenaries. And in March, it was Sweden that announced it would be leaving the MINUSMA mission altogether.
The mobilisation of European militaries – officially justified as a fight against terrorism – have been contested in several countries, including Mali and Burkina Faso, where residents have repeatedly demonstrated against their presence.
And now the sudden troop withdrawal, which appears to be coordinated, is raising questions whether it will leave the region in a better state of security than before, since an insurgency that first erupted in the country’s north in 2012 has now spilled over into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
The LRRG in Mali was an ill conceived & frankly pointless piece of adventuring that did nothing to help Malians.— Louise Jones (@LouJoSays) November 14, 2022
It was also a massive slap in the face for those of us who hoped we'd learn *something* from Afghan.
UK needs to urgently get a grip on making real strategy again. https://t.co/MfWRMASLlW
Burkina Faso has since become the epicentre of the conflict, where thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced.
Speaking to the UK parliament, Heappey insisted the UK troop pullout did not mean Britain would abandon security commitments to the region and accused the military junta in Bamako of working with the Wagner group, and actively interfering with the UN mission and France-led operations.
“The Malian government’s partnership with Wagner group is counterproductive to lasting stability and security in their region,” he said.
While Mali has in the past denied turning to Wagner’s mercenaries, it still acknowledged the support of Russian military “instructors”.
As things stand, the UK says it has been working closely with its partners, especially France and the European Union, to consider options for rebalancing their deployment.