LONDON — The U.K. is withdrawing its troops from Mali six months earlier than planned, despite rising Islamist activity in the region.
British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said the 300-strong U.K. contingent, which was taking part in the United Nations peacemaking mission in Mali (MINUSMA), will end its three-year deployment in the West African country early.
The U.K.’s decision follows an announcement by French President Emmanuel Macron in February that his nation is shifting its forces from Mali to Niger, and a decision by Germany in August to also suspend its military mission to Mali.
The U.N. mission, made up of nearly 12,000 peacekeepers, was intended to stabilize Mali and support its transitional government in organizing elections for 2024 after a military coup in 2020. British troops were deployed to Gao, in the east of Mali, in 2020.
Since 2012, Mali has been fighting a jihadist insurgency against groups aligned to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State. More recently, the country’s military leaders turned to the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group of mercenaries in a bid to maintain order.
“Responsibility for all of this sits in Bamako,” Heappey, referring to Mali’s capital, said in a statement to the House of Commons Monday.
“Two coups in three years have undermined international efforts to advance peace … We are leaving the MINUSMA mission earlier than planned and are, of course, saddened by the way the government in Bamako has made it so difficult for well-meaning nations to remain there.”
The Wagner Group is carrying out different activities across several African countries, including gathering information and protecting regimes, Heappey said, calling the firm of mercenaries “a bunch of human rights-abusing thugs.”
Officials from the EU, the U.K., West Africa and the U.N. are expected to meet Monday and Tuesday in Accra, Ghana, to discuss future action in the region, amid concerns the Wagner Group is targeting Burkina Faso next. Burkina has suffered two coups in eight months, as government there struggles to tackle an ongoing Islamist insurgency.
“The real challenge is now getting after the insurgency in Burkina,” Heappey said.