The Malian government led by interim President Assimi Goïta is protesting the repeated violation of its airspace by foreign aircraft, particularly those of France.
Malian authorities explain that since the beginning of the year, there have been more than 50 deliberate violations by foreign aircraft including refusal to comply with instruction from the air traffic control, falsification of flight documents, the landing of helicopters outside designated airbase without prior authorization, and the flying of high-altitude ISR aircraft and drones over Malian territory.
In the latest incident, a French drone on 20 April, flew of Gossi military base which French Backhane forces recently handed over to the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) as part of the country-wide force pull-out.
The next day, in a second incident, a French Mirage 2000 fighter jet flew over a FAMa convoy sent to reinforce camp Gossi as French forces left the base.
Mali has repeatedly warned of “potential consequences” if such flights persists. For instance, in January, Mali condemned what it called a “clear breach” of its airspace by a French military aircraft.
Malian government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga stated that a complaint had been issued to France after one of its military planes traveled between Ivory Coast’s capital Abidjan and the northern Malian city of Gao on Tuesday.
The flight was a “clear breach” of Malian airspace, the statement said, given the closure of most of the country’s land and air borders due to regional sanctions recently imposed on the Sahel state.
The French military plane had also switched off its transponder, preventing it from communicating with Malian aviation authorities, according to the statement.
It added that the government would “refuse all responsibility for the risks to which the perpetrators of these practices may be exposed in the event of a further violation of our airspace.”
Following a military takeover in August 2020, Mali’s junta had previously promised to hold elections on February 27., which did not materialize. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) then decided to shut land and air borders with Mali and impose a trade embargo over delayed elections.
In response, French army spokesman Pascal Ianni said that “the closure of the borders does not concern military flights”.
After nine years deployed in Mali, under Operation Backhane, France is organising a withdrawal, with troops preparing to leave the last of three bases in the far north of the insurgency-hit country.
As France forces withdraws, it also faces increased competition from Russia’s Wagner Group, in a region where it has operated almost exclusive powers since the end of colonialism in the middle of the last century.
France hopes are on the newly formed European defence force in the Sahel, known as Task Force Takuba.
France has been accused of carrying out indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas which has led to civilian deaths.
On January 3, 2021 two French Mirage 2000D fighter jets carried out an airstrike near the central Malian village of Bounti. According to local activists and a report by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission to Mali (MINUSMA), the strike hit a wedding party. Twenty-two people were killed, including 19 civilians. Most of the dead were men over the age of 40.
Although the report was based on more than 400 interviews and the analysis of more than 150 documents, France questioned its credibility claiming the report is based on “unverifiable local testimony” and “unproven hypotheses”.