PARIS, (The Southern African Times) – Mali is seeking new partners to help the country fend off Islamist militants now that France plans to scale back its counterterrorism force in West Africa’s Sahel region.
“We’re already seeing how some of our partners are moving their forces to other countries, leaving vast territories unprotected,” Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga said in comments at a press conference posted on news site Le Jalon. “If those partners decide to leave entirely, shouldn’t we have a Plan B?”
“We’re looking at other possibilities for collaboration to face the security threat,” Maiga added.
His comments are likely to fuel speculation that Mali might turn to Russia’s Wagner Group to deploy mercenaries in the country.
The fourth-biggest gold producer in Africa is seen as a linchpin in the fight against Islamist insurgents who have threatened state authority and investors’ interests in the Sahel. Groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State stepped up attacks against civilians and security forces in the second quarter of 2021, according to the United Nations.
French troops have started to leave bases in the country’s northern regions. Last week French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said his country’s forces would pull out of Mali entirely if Russian mercenaries were allowed in.
Le Drian called Wagner, which is headed by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, a “private militia made up of former military men” and criticized its past actions in Iraq, Syria and the Central African Republic.
Germany, the UN and Mali’s Sahel neighbor Niger have also warned the government in Bamako against doing a deal with Wagner. Mali’s ministry of foreign affairs on Sunday called Niger’s objections unacceptable and based on “rumors and media reports.”