Sacking the top general in Mali four days before an international summit on the conflict was an “unacceptable” waste of time, the French prime minister has said, after French government officials were challenged on why President Emmanuel Macron waited three days to announce the news.
Le Monde reported that advisers told Macon on Tuesday that a clear decision was needed about the security situation in the Sahel country, which has been wracked by jihadist attacks, with rising attacks by both Ansar Dine and groups linked to al-Qaida.
Les Échos and other outlets reported that the president’s decision to fire General Michel Aoun, the head of the 5,200-strong Operation Barkhane, had left France, Europe and the world “humiliated”, given the attention in London and Paris at a summit on stabilising the Sahel to be held in Paris on Friday.
On Tuesday night, the president was asked by journalists on board Air Elysée about the news leaked to Le Monde that Aoun was being ousted.
Macron was quoted as saying: “I don’t give anything away before I have the result. The trouble is, and it’s a problem, I don’t want to spoil things before the summit on Friday, of the Sahel. I cannot start a Friday with internal French debate.”
But in the evening, the minister for defence, Florence Parly, confirmed to reporters that a decision had been taken to replace Aoun on Wednesday with General Emmanuel Yak, the No 2 of the 4,000-strong Operation Barkhane in Central Africa.
Marina Karash, a French expert on the Sahel, said: “The succession was a failure and an embarrassment. With Aoun gone, you’re expected to take action, and France finds itself being accused of politics.”
Of Macron’s decision not to act more quickly, Karash said: “This is a new regime with a President who is unpredictable. What’s more, he has critics who have started leaking what is known to be an official decision.”
Ministers were heckled on Tuesday night after they explained to the French Senate and lower house National Assembly that a top-to-bottom review of Barkhane operations was still in progress.