In the early days of the French intervention, it was largely seen as a great success. “Mali isn’t a caliphate, and the probability that it could have become one in 2013 was quite strong,” Général Castres said. He argued that France and European allies had also helped Mali strengthen its military capacities.
French troops had far better equipment and training than their Malian counterparts, and could conduct difficult operations from the air as well as the ground, where elite units in air-conditioned armored vehicles combed the scrubby savanna for insurgents and their arms.
But the French soldiers often had little or no experience in any African country, a limited understanding of the complex dynamics at play, and no way of communicating with the Malians they were there to protect. They spent much of their time in heavily protected bases, and came to be seen by many as arrogant and ineffective.
France will now run its counterterrorism efforts in the region from neighboring Niger, as well as Chad, where the Barkhane Operation has been headquartered.
The French pullout from Mali also adds uncertainty to the future of the United Nations’ peacekeeping operation in the country. Last week, Germany, the biggest contributor to the mission, announced that it was ending its participation just three months after voting for its renewal.
The French announced their departure in February, and as they have closed their bases and wound down operations, attacks have continued to increase.