Don’t ask Google, ask us: Why is France in Mali?

French soldiers in Mali as part of Operation Barkhane.
French soldiers in Mali as part of Operation Barkhane. Photo: Florent Vergnes/AFP
In this mini series, The Local answers common questions that comes up when you start typing questions with "France" or "the French" into the Google search engine.

Why is France . . . in Mali?

You might not immediately associate the west African country with France, but in fact France has had a major military presence there since 2013 and ‘why is France in Mali’ is the third most popular suggestion from Google when we asked ‘why is France’.

Commonly referred to in the French media by its army name of Opération Barkhane, the French military operations in Mali have been the source of some controversy and political tension for several years now.

Mali, in West Africa, is one of the 25 poorest countries in the world and also forms part of the region known as Sahel, the region of North Africa which includes countries such as Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

Since 2012 Sahel has been at the centre of armed conflict with jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaida and Islamic State and since 2013 French troops have been taking part in an international operation against the extremists. It is centred in Mali because of the estimated 2,000 fighters in the region, more than 1,000 are from Mali.

France has historic links with Mali – until 1960 is was a French colony – but the French military, the largest in the EU, takes part in many international operations – it has been engaged in nine countries since 2011.

The eight-year operation in Mali is becoming increasingly unpopular with the public in France.

Since the beginning of the operation, 52 French soldiers have died, about 8,000 civilians have been killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso and 2 million were displaced by the fighting.

In June of this year the French government decided that the army would progressively leave the country.

By December 2021, French soldiers will have left the most northern bases of Mali, and by 2023, only 3,000 should remain in the region. 

But this doesn’t mean a complete end to the involvement of French soldiers in the region. The Malian army is getting help from the Takuba force which gathers 600 soldiers from various European countries, and of which half are French. 

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