France commits to a long war just three months after launching its biggest military operation in Africa in 50 years
The official version is that France’s Mali operation has achieved all its objectives – the expulsion of jihadist forces from main northern towns and the destruction of several bases in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains – apart from the rescue of seven hostages still held in the region. This week the withdrawal began, with 100 or so French soldiers going home. France had airlifted 4,000 troops to Mali and sent another 2,000 from its bases in Chad and Côte d’Ivoire. Initially, French President François Hollande’s government had said that all French troops would be out after elections were organised: they are scheduled for July. However, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who has been sceptical about the operation from the start, announced on a 5 April visit to Bamako that France would maintain a ‘support force’ of 1,000 soldiers in Mali on a ‘permanent basis’. This was France’s first public commitment to a long-term military presence. It was more forceful coming from the cautious Fabius rather than the more bullish Defence Minister, Jean-Yves le Drian.
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