OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Burkina Faso’s junta government late Saturday ordered hundreds of French troops to depart the West African country within a month, following in the path of neighboring Mali, whose nation is also headed by a coup leader.
National broadcaster RTB made the announcement, citing the official Agence d’Information du Burkina. The news agency said the decision had been made Wednesday to end the presence of France’s military on Burkinabe soil.
Protesters took to the streets of the capital, Ouagadougou, last week to call for the ouster of the French ambassador and the closure of a French military base north of the capital. About 400 French special forces soliders are currently based there, France 24 reported.
The move by Burkina Faso’s regime comes five months after France completed its withdrawal from Mali after nine years fighting Islamic extremists alongside regional troops. Many of those are now based in Niger and Chad instead.
While the number of French troops in Burkina Faso is far smaller than it was in Mali — 400 special forces, compared to more than 2,400 soldiers — Saturday’s announcement adds to the growing concerns that Islamic extremists are capitalizing on the political disarray and using it to expand their reach. Analysts have questioned whether the national militaries of Burkina Faso and Mali are capable of filling in the void.
More than 60 years after Burkina Faso’s independence, French remains an official language and France has maintained strong economic and humanitarian aid ties with its former colony. As the Islamic extremist insurgency has deepened, however, anti-French sentiment has spiked due in part to the unabating violence.
After the second coup there last year, anti-French protesters began urging the junta to instead strengthen ties with Russia. Mali already has hired Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, who have been accused of widespread human rights abuses there and elsewhere.
Saturday’s announcement was welcomed by those who had lost patience with France.
“Despite their presence on Burkinabe soil with huge equipment and their power at the intelligence level, they couldn’t help us defeat terrorism,” said Passamde Sawadogo, a prominent civil society activist and reggae singer. “It therefore was time for us to get rid of them, and that’s what the transition government is doing with a lot of boldness.”
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.