Barely 48 hours after President Francois Hollande received a rapturous welcome in Timbuktu, the departure of the "Groupe Tactique Inter-Armes" raised fears of a precipitate French retreat.
The plan is for the Malian army, supported by soldiers from other African countries, to assume responsibility for security. Many ordinary Malians however do not trust their own army to defend them, remembering how al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its allies seized Timbuktu and the rest of northern Mali with ease last March.
Until yesterday, about 800 French soldiers were deployed in Timbuktu. A French military spokesman said that 500 were departing, but a smaller number would arrive. After this rotation, the French contingent will be reduced, but still able to secure the city.