Mali Evicts European Military Forces Despite Pressure: Will Russia’s Wagner Contractors Replace Them?

The Malian transitional government has maintained its stance insisting on an immediate withdrawal of foreign forces from its territory, following a change in government in 2020 and mass rallies in the country opposing the presence of European and particularly French personnel. Mali’s government on January 24th requested that Denmark’s special forces, which were some of the last Western personnel in the country, depart immediately despite pressure from France and 14 other Western countries to allow these forces to remain. Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, spokesman for Mali’s government, stated that Denmark had been asked “to immediately withdraw the said contingent from the territory of the Republic of Mali.” Approximately 70 Danish personnel are estimated to have been stationed in the country. The Malian government has received considerable support from neighbouring Algeria in evicting Western forces, with the Algerian government notably closing its airspace to French military aircraft and rumoured to be supporting Bamako in providing for its security without them. 

It was long reported that Mali may consider employing Russian contractors from the Wagner Group to support its armed forces, possibly partly financed by Algeria, to replace European forces until its own armed forces develop all the capabilities needed to provide internal security. The U.S. Military confirmed the presence of Wagner Group contractors, estimated to number in the hundreds, less than a week before the final orders for eviction of Danish personnel were given. U.S. officials described an “alarmed" reaction to the Wagner deployment. Calls for the eviction of Western forces come amid growing signs of fast declining French and European popularity in parts of West and Central Africa, most notably in Burkina Faso and Niger the latter which saw French forces fired on unarmed protestors in November. Extensive benefits gained from the French sphere of influence in the resource rich region have long been seen as vital to France’s economic welling and important to that of the wider European Union. 

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