Mali withdraws soldiers from regional counterterrorism force

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali’s ruling junta says it will withdraw from the regional counterterrorism force known as the G5 Sahel, further isolating itself while it remains under economic sanctions.

The G5 Sahel force — which also includes soldiers from the neighboring West African states of Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad — was created in 2014 and actually deployed troops in 2017.

The rotating presidency of the force was to return to Mali in February 2022 when a conference was scheduled in the capital, Bamako. However, nearly four months later the meeting has still not taken place, Mali’s government said late Sunday.

Many neighboring states object to Mali’s ruling junta which seized power in August 2020. In April the junta leaders said a transition to civilian, democratic rule would take at least two years.

“The opposition of some G5 Sahel states to Mali’s presidency is linked to the maneuvers of an extra-regional state desperately aiming to isolate Mali,” government spokesman Col. Abdoulaye Maiga said on state TV late Sunday.

“Consequently, the government of the republic of Mali decides to withdraw from all organs and bodies of the G5 Sahel, including the joint force,” he said.

Mali has between 400 to 600 soldiers in the G5 Sahel force in Malian territory. These soldiers will remain in their current positions but serve under the command of Mali’s armed forces, according to army spokesman Col. Souleymane Dembele.

The G5 has not succeeded in deploying all the 5,000 troops initially planned because of a lack of funding, but the group has served as a framework for regional cooperation in development and security policy.