Macron Says France Isn't Abandoning Africa, Will Provide Assistance Amid Troop Pullout

French President Emmanuel Macron said France is not abandoning its partners in Africa and will provide assistance amid a pullout French troops in Africa's Sahel region, the Associated Press reported.

Macron announced the troop pullout last month of the French Barkhane force that is stationed across Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. On Friday, he said French forces in the region will be reduced from 5,000 to around 2,500 to 3,000. The troop pullout will begin in early 2022 and Macron assured France will still assist nations in the Sahel region in combating Al-Qaida affiliated groups and the Islamic State.

"France doesn't have the vocation or the will to stay eternally in the Sahel," Macron said. "We are there because we were asked to be."

The Barkhane operation will begin to be dismantled over the next six months with troops being reorganized, Macron said. When the reorganization occurs, "the Barkhane operation will close down," he said and French future operations will focus on combating extremism in Africa among other plans.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron says France is not abandoning Africa amid a future pullout of French forces. In this photo, Macron (R) and Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum (L) attend a video summit with leaders of G5 Sahel countries after France's decision last month to reduce French anti-terror troops in West Africa, at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris on July 9, 2021. Stephane De Sakutin/AFP via Getty Images

France will pivot its military presence to specialized regional forces instead, Macron said.

Macron announced last month a future reduction of France's military presence, arguing that it's no longer adapted to the needs in the area. The French Barkhane force had also met opposition from some Africans.

French troops have been present in Mali since 2013 when they intervened to force Islamic extremist rebels from power in towns across the country's north. Operation Serval was later replaced by Barkhane and was expanded to include other countries in an effort to help stabilize the broader Sahel region.

Islamic militants, though, have continued to launch devastating attacks against the militaries fighting them as well as increasingly against civilians.

Hundreds have died since January in a series of massacres targeting villages on the border of Niger and Mali.

While governments in the Sahel have embraced France's military help, some critics have likened their presence to a vestige of French colonial rule.

The French military will shut down Barkhane bases in Timbuktu, Tessalit and Kidal in northern Mali over the next six months, and start to reconfigure its presence in the coming weeks to focus particularly on the restive border area where Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger meet.

Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum, speaking at Macron's side, welcomed the French military support and training, but on African terms.

"The main thing is that France maintains the principle of its support, its cooperation and support for the armed forces of our different countries. We need France to give us what we don't have. We don't need France to give us what we already have," he said, without elaborating. He acknowledged the failings of local armed forces but also praised their courage in fighting extremists.

France's military presence in the future will focus on strengthening and training local armies, Macron said. "There will also a dimension of reassurance ... to remain permanently ready to intervene rapidly in support of partner forces," notably via military aviation from Niger and Chad.

This new structure "seems to us to respond better to the evolution of the threat," he said.

Some experts say that France's decision may be linked to growing political instability in Mali.

Macron's June announcement came days after Mali coup leader Col. Assimi Goita was sworn as president of a transitional government, solidifying his grip on power in the West African nation after carrying out his second coup in nine months.

Late in June, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the U.N. peacekeeping mission in crisis-wracked Mali and said it's "imperative" that the military government holds presidential and legislative elections on schedule next February.

The council maintained the ceilings in the U.N. force at 13,289 military troops and 1,920 international police, but it asked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to make a recommendation on the force level given growing levels of insecurity and physical violence against the civilian populations in central Mali.

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum hold a press conference after a video summit with leaders of G5 Sahel countries at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris, Friday July 9, 2021. Stephane de Sakutin/Pool photo via AP