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France completes withdrawal from northern Mali

A French convoy evacuates the Timbuktu base in northern Mali in late November. (Ministère des Armées)

French forces completed their withdrawal from northern Mali on 14 December when they handed over their base at Timbuktu to their Mali counterparts.

The other main French bases at Kidal and Tessalit were transferred to the Armed Forces of Mali (FAMa) in October and November respectively.

When it announced the Timbuktu withdrawal, the French Armed Forces Staff (EMA) released a graphic showing there are now 4,800 French troops in the Sahel, down from the approximately 5,500 it reported earlier this year.

The previously announced plan was to reduce French forces in the Sahel to 2,500-3,000 by 2023, but General Laurent Michon, the commander of France's Operation Barkhane mission, indicated that this is being accelerated when he told Agence France-Presse there would be about 3,000 personnel in the region by mid-2022.

The EMA said the remaining troops are supported by seven fast jets, 20 helicopters, and six unmanned aircraft, as well as up to eight tactical and strategic transport aircraft.

It said the new French strategy in the Sahel rests on training and equipping local partners, the presence of the European multinational Task Force Takuba that is now operational in Mali, and France's ability to use air power to rapidly intervene. The latter aspect has been facilitated by training of Malian forward air controllers, which has resulted in nearly 50% of French sorties being carried out in support of the FAMa in recent weeks, according to the EMA.

It also said that 1,250 FAMa and 4,200 UN troops remain at the three bases in northern Mali it has evacuated.


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