As France disengages from Mali, soldiers and equipment involved in Operation Barkhane are being airlifted to Niger.
The French army is now in the process of closing its last base in the vicinity of Gao airport (GAQ), Mali, and redeploying 450 kilometers (280 miles) away to Diori Hamani International Airport (NIM), Niger. The airport houses Niamey Air Base 101 from where France will continue counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel region.
“It will be a challenge to finish this before our deadline to leave Mali, August 17,” Commander Thierry, head of the joint coordination center in Gao told FranceInfo. “We will do it.”
In total, 2,000 French soldiers and more than 4,000 containers have to be moved out of Mali. Two Airbus A400M transport aircraft are on daily rotation to airlift assets. Mirage 2000D fighter jets and MQ-9 Reaper attack drones operating from Niamey are also engaged in protecting weekly road convoys between the two bases.
The French military has been deployed in Mali and the Sahel region since 2013. However, after two coups d’état in 2020 and 2021 that put into power a new military junta, France and its allies announced their departure from the country.
“Due to the multiple obstructions of the Malian transitional authorities, Canada and the European States operating alongside Operation Barkhane and within Task Force Takuba believe that the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively pursue their current military commitment to the fight against terrorism in Mali and have therefore decided to initiate the coordinated withdrawal from Malian territory,” the authorities announced in a joint statement on February 17, 2022.
A VAB armored personnel carrier being loaded into an Airbus A400M (Credit: French Ministry of Armed Forces)