French President Emmanuel Macron announced Friday that France will withdraw over 2,000 troops from Africa’s Sahel region at the start of next year. French troops have been fighting in the region for over eight years now, with operations in Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania.
There are currently about 5,000 French troops in the Sahel. Macron said the long-term plan is to reduce that number to between 2,500 and 3,000 soldiers. As part of the drawdown, France will close several bases in northern Mali.
Macron’s announcement was expected since he had been hinting at a possible drawdown since early this year. France first intervened in Mali in 2013 to fight Islamic militants, and the war was expanded into the wider Sahel region in 2014.
French airstrikes in the region have killed dozens of civilians this year. In January, France bombed a wedding in Mali in the remote Gao region. France disputed reports of civilian deaths, but the UN later confirmed that 19 civilians were killed by the airstrikes. In March, local officials said French airstrikes killed six civilians in Gao.