Handout photo. Colonel Adam Nere, the head of Burkina Faso's army, receives a flag from French Lieutenant-Colonel Louis Lecacheur during a military handover ceremony at the base of Kamboincin, Burkina Faso, on February 18, 2023. The ceremony marked the end of French military operations on Burkinabe soil. Burkina Faso's General Staff of the Armed Forces [Twitter]
France and Burkina Faso have officially ended French military operations in the West African country. The Burkinabe armed forces announced this on Sunday, February 19, after a flag-lowering ceremony at the French special forces’ camp the day before.
Burkina Faso gave France one month to get its troops out of the country when it ended a military agreement that let French troops fight insurgents on its land. The country said it wanted to be able to defend itself.
Their departure marks a new chapter in Burkina Faso’s battle with Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State, which have taken over large swathes of land and displaced millions of people in the wider Sahel region, just south of the Sahara.
In a statement, the General Staff of the Burkinabe Armed Forces said that they and the leaders of France’s Sabre special forces had taken part in “a solemn flag-lowering ceremony marking the official end of the Task Force’s operations on Burkinabe soil.”
The French armed forces ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
About 400 French special forces have left Burkina Faso because of a sharp drop in relations, which led Ouagadougou to ask France to bring back its ambassador.
Protests by people who didn’t like the French military presence went up sharply last year. This was partly because people thought France wasn’t doing enough to stop the insurgency.
Over the past week, a small group of anti-French protesters has met each evening in Ouagadougou to watch out for signs of French withdrawal.
“We don’t want the smallest second added to the scheduled date of departure.” “Let them leave and leave our Faso to us,” said Amadé Maiga, who was among those decked out in Burkinabe flags and waving a French tricolor with a red cross through it.
Some of the group also held Russian flags—a sign of the complicated political undercurrents shaping the region.
Both Burkina Faso and Mali, which is right next door, are run by military juntas that took power by force in the last two years. They promised to make the country safer and look for support from places other than their traditional allies.
France withdrew its forces from Mali last year after the junta there started working with Russian military contractors. Ghana has said that Burkina Faso hired mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group. This led Burkina Faso’s interim president to say that there were no such forces in the country.
Russia’s influence in troubled African countries has been called “predatory” by French President Emmanuel Macron. This is because France’s own power in its former colonies has been decreasing.
“Walking with Russia is not a sin… Russia is the solution,” said 58-year-old protester Amadé Compaoré.