Britain announced Monday it is withdrawing its peacekeepers from Mali, saying the West African country’s growing reliance on Russian mercenaries is undermining stability.
Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said the 300-strong British force that has been stationed in Mali since 2020 as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission will leave earlier than planned. He did not give a timeline.
Heappey told lawmakers in the House of Commons that “responsibility for all of this sits in Bamako,” Mali’s capital. “Two coups in three years have undermined international efforts to advance peace.”
Tensions have grown between Mali, its African neighbors and the West after Mali’s government allowed Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group to deploy on its territory.
Heappey called Wagner’s forces “a bunch of murderous, human rights-abusing thugs.”
“The Wagner Group is linked to mass human rights abuses and the Malian government’s partnership with the Wagner Group is counterproductive to lasting stability and security in their region,” he said.
France announced earlier this year it was withdrawing its own, much larger force from Mali after relations deteriorated with a junta that seized power in 2020. France, the former colonial power in Mali, led a nine-year mission and had at its peak 5,500 troops in the country to combat Islamic militants.
Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 uprising when mutinous soldiers overthrew the president. The power vacuum that resulted ultimately led to a jihadist insurgency and a French-led war that ousted the jihadists from power in 2013.
Insurgents remain active in Mali and extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have moved from the arid north to more populated central Mali since 2015, stoking animosity and violence between ethnic groups in the region.
Heappey said Britain remained committed to Mali and the wider Sahel region, and he would meet colleagues from across Europe and West Africa in Ghana next week “to coordinate our renewed response to instability in the Sahel.”