France plans to withdraw after retaking north Mali

by Oren Dorell, USA TODAY  |  published on February 1, 2013

France plans to leave northern Mali soon, now that its troops have retaken northern Mali from jihadist militias. Its strategy relies on handing control of an area the size of Texas to an African force that is unprepared and has yet to fully materialize.

About 2,500 French troops took part in the operation alongside the Malian military, which was overrun last year by Tuareg and Islamist militias that outnumbered and outgunned it. An international coalition of neighboring African countries has also committed troops, but there are serious questions about their number, training and experience for the mission, says Joshua Foust, a former intelligence analyst for the U.S. military.

“There’s a lot of doubt among Africa experts about whether these two groups will be able to handle it,” says Foust, who works for the American Security Project, a think-tank in Washington.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Le Parisien newspaper Wednesday that France provided the men and supplies “to make the mission succeed and hit hard,” but French involvement “was never expected to be maintained.”

“We will leave quickly,” Fabius said, according to the Associated Press. “Now it’s up to African countries to take over.”

France launched its operation Jan. 11 at the request of the Malian transitional government to stop the advance of Islamist militias toward the capital, Bamoko. Jihadi and separatist Tuareg militias overran Malian government positions in the north last spring, supported by fighters that flooded the region after the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

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