(New York, N.Y.) – On May 15, Mali’s ruling junta announced that the country would withdraw from the G5 Sahel, a West African security force. Junta officials claimed the decision was due to the G5’s lack of progress in defeating al-Qaeda and ISIS. U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Martha Pobee criticized Mali’s pullout as “unfortunate and regrettable” and highlighted that this “is most certainly a step back for the Sahel.”
Mali has experienced rising ethnic and terrorist-backed violence in recent years with civilians bearing the brunt of the casualties. In 2021, 684 civilians were reportedly killed and hundreds more were wounded due to extremist violence. According to U.S. government estimates, “fatalities from militant Islamist violence against civilians in the first quarter of 2022 were greater than in any previous calendar year” and violence by Islamist groups “is on track to increase by 70 percent in 2022.”
“Terrorist groups in the Sahel region continue to grow at an unprecedented rate. This is largely due to the declining security in the region, creating an environment for the terrorist organizations to transform the area into an active terrorist zone. Mali’s pullout of the G5 Sahel force will have a worsening effect on these conditions and allow al-Qaeda and ISIS as well as their affiliates to gain even greater traction,” said Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Senior Director Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler.
Despite the increase in terrorist violence in Mali, on January 26, 2020, the Pentagon announced it was considering reducing the number of U.S. troops in Mali. Additionally, in June 2021, France announced that it would end Operation Barkane—its seven-year anti-terror mission in Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Niger, and Mauritania. Of the 5,000 French troops currently in Mali, that number is expected to fall to 2,500 or 3,000 by 2023.
Relations between France and Mali have deteriorated in recent years given the Malian regime’s reluctance to transition to civilian rule. Tensions were further increased when Malian officials courted Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group to join their fight to combat the al-Qaeda-affiliated coalition Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), which also includes fighters from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The move has been met with international concern, as the EU-sanctioned Wagner Group has been accused of destabilizing regional conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Central African Republic, and the Sahel.
To read CEP’s resource Mali: Extremism and Terrorism, please click here.
To read CEP’s resource Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), please click here.