Denmark has said it will start pulling its troops out of Mali after the West African country’s transitional government this week insisted on an immediate withdrawal, a blow to France as its security operations in the Sahel region begin to unravel.
The decision comes amid tensions between Mali and its international partners, including regional bodies and the European Union, that have sanctioned Mali after the military government failed to organise elections following two coups.
Tensions have escalated also over allegations that transitional authorities have deployed private military contractors from the Russia-backed Wagner Group to Mali, which some EU countries have said was incompatible with their mission.
“We can see that the Malian transitional government, or the coup generals, last night sent out a public statement where they again reiterated that Denmark is not welcome in Mali, and we of course will not put up with that,” Denmark’s Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told reporters on Thursday. “So therefore we have decided to withdraw our soldiers home.”
We “will continue the good and close cooperation with our European allies” and keep the pressure on Mali’s rulers “to get democracy back, to create safety for the population in Mali, to fight the terror groups”, Kofod added.
Denmark had sent 105 military personnel to Mali on January 18 to join a European special forces mission, known as Takuba, that was set up to help Mali tackle armed groups. It said its troops had deployed after a “clear invitation” from Mali.
But the Malian government said this week it was surprised by the Danish presence because a decision had yet to be made on a request from Denmark in June to deploy troops.
Denmark’s withdrawal, which comes after Sweden affirmed earlier this month that it would leave Mali in March, is a headache for France, which had staked much on “Europeanising” its Sahel intervention, where Paris has thousands of troops operating.
Relations have soured between the ruling military and France, the former colonial power, since the army seized power.
Tensions rose further from December, when West African states imposed sanctions, including a trade embargo and border closures, on the conflict-torn Sahel nation.
The measures from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were a response to a transitional government proposal to stay in power for up to five years before staging elections – despite an earlier commitment to hold the vote in February.
And on Wednesday the military government lashed out at Paris, telling it to stop interfering and to keep its “colonial reflexes” to itself.
France and 14 other European countries had urged Mali’s government on Wednesday to allow Danish special forces to remain in Mali, rejecting the military leaders’ claims that their presence was without legal basis. Interim Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga responded that the Danes needed to withdraw immediately.
“We invite them [the Danes] to be careful about some partners who sadly have problems getting rid of their colonial reflexes,” Maiga said.
The transitional government’s decision to ask Denmark to leave is likely to impact future deployments, with Norway, Hungary, Portugal, Romania and Lithuania set to send troops this year.
Norway, Portugal and Hungary are still waiting for approval to deploy their special forces, Mali’s government said.