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Mali: Russian security forces reported in Gao, after the withdrawal of the French army

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Published on: 08/17/2022 – 13:06 The French army completed, on Monday, the withdrawal of the last soldiers from Operation Barkhane, after nine years of presence in Mali. At the same time, dozens of members of the Russian security forces were seen by German peacekeepers at Gao airport in the north of the country, where the Russian paramilitary group Wagner already operates. As nature abhors a vacuum, Russia seems not to have waited very long to advance its pawns in Mali, where the Russian paramilitary group Wagner already operates. German blue helmets observed, on Monday August 15, the presence of dozens of members of the Russian security forces at Gao airport, in the north of the country, even though France announced that it had completed the withdrawal of the last soldiers. French Barkhane, a military operation aimed at fighting in the Sahel against jihadist movements. According to a document drawn up by the command of the German Federal Defense Force, dated Tuesday and seen by the Reuters agency, German and British soldiers belonging to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force noticed the presence of two aircraft at Gao airport, including an L-39 Albatros. “Two hours later, 20 or 30 people dressed in non-Malian army uniforms were seen unloading equipment from a Malian plane,” the document said. “They were most certainly members of the Russian security forces, the L-39 having probably been piloted by Russian soldiers, the Malian forces not being able to do so,” he added. Relations between Bamako and Paris have continued to deteriorate since the Malian army took power following a coup in 2020. The military in power in Bamako have moved closer to Russia and welcomed new allies, members of the Wagner group, whose presence is reported in certain areas of the country. On Tuesday, Captain Yann, a French soldier and member of the Barkhane Force, confirmed that he had already come across mercenaries from the group on the ground during patrols. Russia to support its army while Russia speaks of a “commercial” contract between Wagner and Mali, unrelated to Moscow. On December 13, the European Union adopted a series of sanctions to respond to the “destabilizing actions” carried out in Europe and Africa by Wagner. This decision had been unanimously approved by EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. The EU had also sanctioned in 2020 the Russian oligarch Yevgueni Prigojine, close to Russian power and considered to be the financier of the Wagner group. “1,000 poorly equipped men” According to Nicolas Normand, former French ambassador to Mali, nearly a thousand mercenaries belonging to this company are present in the country. “A thousand ill-equipped men compared to the French army, without effective air force or drones, who cannot solve a problem that the French soldiers themselves could not contain,” he said. The diplomat also insisted on the counterproductive presence of Wagner. “By its brutality, it finally pushes part of the population into the arms of the jihadists, because they feel attacked by the Malian army supported by these Russian mercenaries, and this is a real problem”. A recent report by experts commissioned by the UN, unveiled by AFP on August 5, referred to the presence of “white soldiers” accompanying Malian soldiers on the scene of killings, in particular in Robinet El Ataye, where 33 civilians were killed. were killed in March. “These are companies that do not respect any rules, as we saw again in the case of the Gossi mass grave, which they set up for the purpose of disinformation against the French forces. They will not be a point of stability in the region,” said Colonel Yves Gastine, commander of Force Barkhane in Gao, on Tuesday. The day after the previous handover of a French base, in April, in Gossi, the French general staff had broadcast videos shot by a nearby drone showing paramilitaries, most likely from the Wagner group, burying bodies with a view to accusing France of war crimes. Still, the Malian army has carried out numerous military operations to “hunt down” jihadist groups in central Mali since the beginning of the year. And several local sources reported that the soldiers were accompanied by “white soldiers”. Jihadist group claims assassination of Russian mercenariesOn Monday, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) claimed to have killed four paramilitaries from the Russian group in an ambush in central Mali, according to a press release authenticated on Monday by the American NGO SITE, which specializes in monitoring radical groups. Information confirmed to AFP by two local elected officials and a hospital source. On Saturday, “a group of Wagner mercenaries rode out on motorcycles in the Bandiagara region, starting from the village of Djallo and heading towards the mountains,” the statement said. “The soldiers of Allah were watching them (…) and were able to kill four of them and the rest fled”, continues the propaganda organ of the jihadist group. With AFP and Reuters

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