French soldier killed in Mali as Paris mulls pull-out
A French soldier has been killed in Mali, the French Defense Ministry announced on Sunday, with the latest loss coming as Paris questions whether it will stop providing military support to the junta-run West African country.
The new death brings to 53 the total number of combat deaths suffered by French forces since they first deployed troops to Mali nine years ago to fight an insurgency by Islamic extremists.
The soldier was killed in a salvo of around a dozen artillery shells that were fired on Saturday at a military base in Gao, in the volatile and poverty-stricken Sahel region, according to a Defense Ministry statement.
Nine others were wounded by the projectiles, which were launched five to six kilometers (3-4 miles) northeast in an area known to be used by the Qaeda-linked Islamist insurgent group GSIM, a military spokesman said.
President Emmanuel Macron “pays tribute to the courage of the soldiers on duty in the Sahel and expresses his full confidence in them,” according to a statement from his office.
“He confirms France’s determination to continue the fight against terrorism in the region, together with its partners,” the statement added.
France has begun to reduce its forces in Mali, but is now questioning its future in the country after diplomatic relations with the country’s military leadership collapsed over the past year.
Paris’s main complaints are the regime’s refusal to organize early elections to incorporate a civilian government, as well as its growing closeness to Moscow and its relationship with the Russian mercenary group Wagner.
The French have accused Mali’s leaders of deploying Wagner mercenaries, which the regime denies.
Analysts say Macron faces a major dilemma as he ponders the future of the “Barkhane” mission in the Sahel region, which has some 5,000 French troops operating from bases in Mali and neighboring Burkina Faso, Chad. and Niger.
Despite an investment of around $1 billion a year, jihadist groups are seen to be growing in strength, undermining public support for the presence of soldiers from the former colonial power in the region.
Four French soldiers were injured Tuesday in Burkina Faso when their vehicle was hit by a roadside improvised explosive device.
Source Credit: TheGuardian