New York / Paris (AP) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov has confirmed that the Malian government has contacted a Russian mercenary company.
Reports of a possible recourse to the mercenary company Wagner had stimulated the debate in Germany on a possible withdrawal of the Bundeswehr from the Sahel country and raised concerns in France.
“You turned to a private Russian military company,” Lavrov said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Saturday. “If I understand correctly, in connection with the fact that France wishes to significantly reduce its military contingent, which (…) should fight terrorists there.” He added: “We have nothing to do with it. They are commercial contracts between a recognized and legitimate government and those who provide foreign military aid. “
Like other countries in the Sahelian zone, Mali is threatened by armed groups and Islamist militias, some of which have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) or Al-Qaeda. The unstable government is supported by foreign troops. The former colonial power France in particular is active in the region with the “Barkhane” combat mission with up to 5,100 soldiers. The Bundeswehr is providing around 900 soldiers for the UN Minusma stabilization mission and around 300 soldiers for the EU EUTM training mission, but no combat troops.
Despite international military aid to the government in Bamako, Islamist militias in Mali are multiplying. France wants to reorganize its military presence and reduce it to 2,500 to 3,000 soldiers in the long term. The interim government installed in Bamako after a coup d’état is said to have turned to Wagner – also with a view to personal protection. However, she called the information about it rumors.
In France, the weekend commemorated a soldier who died during an anti-terrorism mission in Mali. The armed forces announced that the sniper of a special mountain hunter unit was fatally injured by a sniper on Friday near Gossi in the border area with Burkina Faso. He had explored an area with a raid party where attack helicopters attacked a terrorist group. The sniper was killed.
Since 2013, 52 French soldiers have perished in the Sahel fighting Islamist militias. It wasn’t until June that French President Emmanuel Macron awarded the fallen soldier the highest order for rifles and non-commissioned officers. Macron on Friday reaffirmed France’s determination against terrorism.