began withdrawing troops from Mali. The French sent around 4,000 troops to Mali in January to dislodge Islamic militants from their strongholds in the north of the country. The French plan keep a permanent force of 1,000 troops in their former colony and handover more responsibilities to a United Nations peacekeeping force. While the French have succeeded in removing Islamic militants from most of the areas they captured there are concerns that Islamic militants could return and that suicide attacks like the one today could be seen more often as the French withdraw more troops.Earlier this week the French
Voice of America has reported on how some Malians in the town of Gao are feeling about the French leaving:
The French have done most of the heavy lifting in this war. Only time will tell whether those air strikes and desert sweeps have rooted out most of the insurgents or simply sent them underground to bide their time until the big guns leave.
The Malian army has struggled to fend off the small groups of jihadists who have been sneaking back into Gao to mount attacks since the city's liberation on January 26.
Gao residents, like Imam Hama Maiga, say they are not sure the Malian army can keep them safe.
"We need to be able to trust our men, the Malian army. We need to cooperate with them…. And, whatever training it is that the French have, we want our army to have the same so that they can take over the security of this country," said Maiga.
In Gao, the Malian army is still working to win the trust of the local community, and vice versa.
The Malian military is not only less trained and less well equipped than the French military, it has been accused of abuses, with the International Federation for Human Rights saying that there is good reason to believe that Tuaregs and Arabs have been targeted and executed by Malian soldiers. Military trainers from the European Union are working with the Malian military, but while they may be able to improve the skills of the Malian military this does not mean that abuses will necessarily end.
If Islamic militants do return as the French withdraw it will put the French government in an awkward position, and French officials may come under pressure to slow down their withdrawal.