KIGALI, Rwanda

European leaders announced on Thursday they are withdrawing their forces deployed in Mali as part of a counter-terrorism mission, citing obstructions by the Malian transitional authorities.

A joint statement issued ahead of an EU-Africa summit in Brussels said it would be a coordinated withdrawal together with European allies and Canada.

The EU and African Union leaders are meeting in Brussels on Thursday at a two-day summit to discuss Africa’s economic development, vaccine independence, energy transformation, and security.

“Due to multiple obstructions by the Malian transitional authorities, Canada and the European States operating alongside Operation Barkhane and within the Task Force Takuba deem that the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali,” said the statement.

It was issued by the countries operating with the France-led Barkhane counter-terrorism force and the Takuba mission, which includes 14 European nations.

The statement said in close coordination with neighboring states, the countries expressed their willingness to remain engaged in the region.

“At the request of their African partners, and based on discussions on future modalities of joint action, they agreed nonetheless to continue their joint action against terrorism in the Sahel region, including in Niger and in the Gulf of Guinea, and have begun political and military consultations with them with the aim to set out the terms for this shared action by June 2022,” it said.

The Takuba force from 14 European countries was tasked to provide special forces as well as logistical and tactical support working alongside regional troops for targeted operations against insurgency.

The soldiers were helping Mali and West Africa Sahel neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger tackle an insurgency linked to the al-Qaeda and Daesh/ISIS terror groups who have created havoc in the tri-border area.

Reports that the transitional junta government has deployed private military contractors from the Russia-backed Wagner Group to Mali escalated tensions as some EU countries contend that it was incompatible with their mission.

Simmering tension also built up between Mali and international partners, including regional blocs, over the failure by the transitional government to organize elections in February following two military coups.

Niger to host European forces

Meanwhile, speaking at a news conference in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said neighboring Niger had agreed to host the European forces.

“The heart of this military operation will no longer be in Mali but in Niger,” Macron said.

The withdrawal from Mali would take four to six months, during which there would be fewer operations against insurgents in the Sahel, said Macron.

France sent troops to Mali in 2013 after fighters overran the north of the country.

European Council President Charles Michel, Ghanaian President and Chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States Nana Akufo-Addo, and Senegalese and African Union President Macky Sall were also present at the news conference.

Copyright 2022 Anadolu Agency. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.