Britain announced Monday that it would cut short its troop deployment with the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali after relations with the country’s Russian-backed junta soured.
“I can announce that the UK contingent will… now be leaving the MINUSMA mission earlier than planned,” Defence Minister James Heappey told parliament, referring to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali.
“Two coups in three years have undermined international efforts to advance peace,” he said.
“This government cannot deploy our nation’s military to provide security when the host country’s government is not willing to work with us to deliver lasting stability and security.”
Heappey accused Mali of working with the Russian mercenary group Wagner, and actively seeking to “interfere” with the UN mission and French-led operations there.
“The Malian government’s partnership with Wagner group is counterproductive to lasting stability and security in their region,” he said.
Bamako has previously denied turning to Wagner’s paramilitaries, acknowledging only the support of Russian military “instructors.”
Britain dispatched 300 troops to Mali in December 2020 to join MINUSMA, a force drawn from dozens of countries aiming to bolster the troubled Sahel nation.
It was originally planned that they would remain there for three years, but they will now pull out within the next six months, under the ministry’s plans.
Alongside faltering relations with Mali’s military leaders, an Islamist insurgency that first erupted in the country’s north in 2012 has now spilled over into neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso.
The epicenter of the conflict — which has killed thousands of people and displaced millions — now appears to be in Burkina Faso, according to Britain’s defense ministry.
France pulled its troops out of Mali earlier this year amid growing friction with the junta in Bamako, while Sweden announced in March it would be leaving the MINUSMA mission.
Heappey insisted the UK troop drawdown did not mean Britain would abandon security commitments to the region.
“We’ve been working closely with our allies to consider options for rebalancing our deployment alongside France, the EU and other like-minded allies,” he told MPs.
Interested parties will meet next week in Ghana in the first major gathering in support of the so-called Accra Initiative, he noted.
The West African-led plans aim to prevent further contagion of the insurgency into Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Niger, and tackling the growing levels of violence in Burkina Faso.
“The UK will continue its commitment to Mali and the Sahel through our humanitarian, stabilisation and development assistance, working in close coordination with partners,” Heappey added.