Speaking at the inauguration of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako on Thursday, French President Francois Hollande declared that the war against terror has been won in Mali.
“We have won this war; we have chased out the terrorists; we have secured the north and finally... you organized an uncontested election and the winner is now the president of Mali,” Hollande said at a sports stadium in the Malian capital.
“If there had not been an intervention, today the terrorists would be here in Bamako,” he added.
France sent soldiers to Mali in January to help push out radical Islamic militant groups who had seized control of northern Mali and imposed a repressive interpretation of Islamic Shariah law on people living in Timbuktu and Gao.
Hollande also used his speech to bolster his case for intervention in Syria.
Earlier this fall, he supported calls for military strikes to punish the Assad regime for using chemical weapons on its own people. “When women and children are massacred, the international community must react. That is the lesson of Mali,” he said in Bamako.
Alain Antil, head of sub-Saharan African studies at Ifri, the French Institute for International Relations, told the Financial Times that it is “undeniable” that France fulfilled its main objectives in Mali.
However, he cautioned, many Islamist fighters fled to nearby countries, particularly Niger and southern Libya. “The operation neutralized part of the (Islamist) forces, but the rest dispersed. The issue of the Salafists and jihadis in the Sahel region is clearly not over,” Antil said.
In his inaugural speech, Keita, elected in August, pledged to restore Mali’s democratic institutions. “The path will be long, but we will get there with the participation of all Malians,” he said.
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While in Mali, Hollande will also hold a mini-summit with the heads of state of Gabon, Chad and Cameroon, to discuss the security situation in the Central African Republic, which had a coup in March.