BY BABA AHMED And JAN M. OLSEN
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali’s junta has told Denmark to withdraw its soldiers from the country’s north, saying no permission had been given for them to deploy there as part of a European counterterrorism operation, a government spokesman said Wednesday.
The demand for the Danish troop withdrawal comes just a week after a 90-person contingent from Denmark had arrived in the volatile West African nation for a one-year deployment. The Danish contingent includes a surgical team.
The request for their immediate departure comes as France already is reducing the number of troops it has had in the region for the past nine years to fight Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. The drawdown means Malian troops and their U.N. peacekeeping counterparts now will have more responsibility for fighting the jihadis than before, and some have questioned whether that may further destabilize northern Mali.
Col. Abdoulaye Maiga, spokesman for Mali’s military-led government, said in a statement that Denmark has been asked “to immediately withdraw the said contingent from the territory of the Republic of Mali.”
A statement from the government in Bamako said that the Danish deployment was done without the Malian government’s consent. European partners, though, insist that the deployment of the Danes was discussed beforehand.
The Danish Foreign Ministry said that in 2019 then-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had requested that Denmark send troops to join the Takuba effort. But less than a year later, Keita was deposed in a military coup by the man now in charge in Mali.
The ministry in Copenhagen said the Danish contribution also had been approved by the current transitional government led by coup leader Col. Assimi Goita.
“Denmark’s participation has taken place in accordance with the established procedures,” it said in a statement.
After seizing power in August 2020, Goita initially pledged to uphold Mali’s international agreements but recently has shown signs of reluctance, at one point even temporarily grounding U.N. peacekeeping flights in the north.
Over the past 18 months, Goita has solidified his control, naming himself president of the government that was supposed to organize new democratic elections by the end of next month. Now Goita says that won’t happen until 2024, prompting Mali’s neighbors to impose punishing economic sanctions this month.
Mali has been battling an Islamic insurgency in the north since 2012, and former colonizer France led a military operation in 2013 to force from power in the major towns of northern Mali.
Other European forces also have helped train Malian troops in the years since. And in 2020, a special task force was created — known as Takuba, which means sword in Tamasheq, one of the languages spoken in northern Mali.
The task force currently numbers about 600 soldiers and is made up of special operations troops from various European countries including Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Olsen contributed from Copenhagen, Denmark. Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.