Mali’s prime minister reiterated his claim that France was deserting the West Africa country and accused Paris of failing to contain a deadly Islamist insurgency, in an interview published Monday.
Choguel Kokalla Maiga also confirmed that Mali’s ruling junta was unlikely to hold presidential and legislative elections as promised by February 27, 2022, despite warnings from the international community.
Maiga’s allegations of an “abandonment in mid-flight” have infuriated President Emmanuel Macron, who has announced plans to reduce the number of Barkhane troops stationed in Mali since 2013.
“Nearly nine years later, what do we see? The terrorism that was limited to Kidal has spread to 80 percent of our territory,” Maiga told French daily Le Monde, referring to a city in Mali’s north.
French forces are now to focus on the east of Mali, a bastion for the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
“But the most dangerous group for the Malian State is the GSIM in the north,” Maiga said, using the English acronym for the Al-Qaeda-linked Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, or JNIM.
“While Al-Qaeda is multiplying its attacks, our main ally, or who we thought was, decides to leave its zone of influence for the three borders region,” near Niger and Burkina Faso, he said. “Is that not an abandonment in mid-flight? We are looking for solutions,” he said.
But he dismissed as “rumors” reports that Mali’s government is looking to hire hundreds of Russian paramilitaries from the Wagner group.
France has warned such a move would force it to consider a full pullout from Mali. Paris has also urged it to hold elections as planned to restore civilian rule after two coups in little over a year.
“A few weeks or months longer of delay is not the end of the world for a country in crisis for the past 10 years,” said Maiga.