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“It is certain that if there had not been this operation and that if we left tomorrow, Mali would very quickly become a jihadist sanctuary. It would be a tragedy”Jean-Marie Bockel, president of the Solidarité Défense association, which supports wounded soldiers and bereaved families, was alarmed on Tuesday on franceinfo, while five French soldiers from the Barkhane force have been killed in Mali in recent days.
If France has “no vocation to stay with 5,000 soldiers” on the spot, “This handover to local forces, particularly in Mali, must continue”, highlighted the former Minister and Secretary of State for Defense and Veterans Affairs, who himself lost a son in a helicopter crash in Mali in 2019.
franceinfo: Is it a dark week that the French army has just experienced?
Jean-Marie Bockel: Yes, and it’s not the first. Each time there is such a tragedy in Mali, it rekindles our pain, but also our deep sympathy and our solidarity with the families of these killed soldiers whose pain we obviously understand.
These soldiers died in two separate explosive device attacks. Does this mean that the jihadists against whom France is fighting on the spot in the Sahel are in the process of strengthening their hold over this region or that they are in any case better organized?
There is a paradox between the many French victories over the months and this situation which is still there. We have the feeling that it is endless. The jihadist environment in the region, combined with interethnic tensions between the different peoples, the question of the Tuaregs, all of this obviously creates a breeding ground which means that the problem is not resolved, ultimately. But I always thought that this intervention was necessary. Mali is a country with which we have a long-standing partnership. It is not a presence that is being tackled. And it is certain that if there had not been this operation and if we left tomorrow, Mali – but also the neighboring countries – would very quickly become a jihadist sanctuary. It would be a tragedy.
Should we still consider this withdrawal of the French soldiers who are a little more than 5,000 on the spot today?
This question is obviously clearly posed today. But the whole question is how. We do not intend to stay with 5,000 soldiers in position, for many of them, moreover, static. There are obviously a number of fights that are being waged but we are no longer in the operation in which we were at the beginning which aimed to prevent the jihadist columns from invading all of Mali, from going to Bamako and to create some kind of caliphate. Today, we are in a situation where there is both military progress on the ground, but also, it should be remembered, especially since the G5 Sahel which was held in Pau almost a year ago, a rise in the military forces of these countries [Mali, Mauritanie, Niger, Burkina Faso et Tchad]. So this handover to local forces, particularly in Mali, must continue.