France will continue its military operations in Mali against Islamic fighters despite the ousting of the country’s president two days ago by a coup, the French armed force minister said on Thursday.
“The Barkhane operation, asked for by the Mali population and authorised by the U.N. Security Council, continues,” Florence Parly said on Twitter.
After Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaeda took control of the desert north of Mali in early 2012, exploiting a Tuareg separatist uprising, France began a military intervention the following year. The intervention evolved into the current Operation Barkhane deployment with a mandate for counter-terror operations across the Sahel region, encompassing Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Around 4,500 French personnel are deployed, and they work alongside the G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train 5,000 troops, as well as peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations MINUSMA stabilization mission in Mali.
The United Nations said Wednesday “it continues to monitor the ongoing situation in Mali, where soldiers arrested the President and several members of his cabinet in a military coup on Tuesday.”
Minister Parly’s tweet came hours after French President said power must be returned to civilians and called for President Keita’s immediate release.
“In Mali, power must be returned to civilians and milestones must be laid for the return to constitutional order. President Keïta, his prime minister and members of the government must be released without delay and their safety guaranteed,” Emmanuel Macron said on twitter.
Condemnation of the coup has been widespread abroad, amid concerns it could disrupt a military campaign against jihadists linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State operating in northern and central Mali and West Africa’s wider Sahel region.
Heads of state from the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which suspended Mali and shut off its borders on Tuesday, held an extraordinary virtual session on Thursday to address the first military takeover in the coronavirus era.