Germany will start to pull out its troops from Mali from the middle of next year after a decade-long mission, with the withdrawal to be completed by May 2024, a government spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Berlin has deployed some 1,000 troops to Mali, most near the northern town of Gao where their main task is to gather reconnaissance for the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA.
The future of the German mission has been in doubt for a while due to recurring disputes with the ruling military junta in Bamako and the arrival of Russian forces in Gao, which added to Berlin’s unease over an increasing Russian military presence in Mali.
The government decided to extend by one year the mandate for the mission in May 2023 for a last time to ensure a structured exit, said government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit.
“In particular, the elections in Mali scheduled for February 2024 will be taken into account,” said Hebestreit.
The decision, reported earlier by Reuters, is subject to approval by the Bundestag lower house of parliament.
The decision followed talks between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock who were at odds on the issue.
While the defence ministry had lobbied for a withdrawal, the foreign ministry warned against leaving Mali to an increasing Russian presence and pushed for German troops to stay on.
“It will be a very orderly withdrawal from Mali – without losing sight of the transition process in Mali,” Lambrecht said. “As there are elections scheduled in Feb 2024, we will stay over these elections, but we will start the withdrawal in summer next year.”
The May 2024 deadline, first reported by Spiegel magazine, signifies a compromise as it means that the German troops will still be there for a presidential election in Mali.
In June, the military junta in Bamako issued a decree setting a two-year timetable, to be counted from March 2022, to hold elections and restore civilian rule.
The United Nations said it has not yet received official notification of the German withdrawal, adding MINUSMA and the people of Mali needed the continued support of other countries.
“The mission is currently assessing the impact of these withdrawals on its operations, and we are already in discussions with a number of countries in order to fill any gaps,” deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
In mid-November, Britain became the latest Western country to announce the withdrawal of its forces from Mali, saying it would pull out its 300 troops.
MINUSMA was established in 2013 to support foreign and local troops battling Islamist militants, but in recent months there have been repeated instances of tensions between the Malian authorities and the mission.
MINUSMA has about 12,000 military personnel deployed in the country. The three largest contributors are Chad, Bangladesh and Egypt.
Europe’s relations with Mali have deteriorated since a military coup in 2020 and since the government invited fighters from the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked private military company, to support its fight against insurgents.
That prompted France to withdraw its troops earlier this year after almost a decade in Mali.