Britain is to withdraw its peacekeeping troops from the West African state of Mali despite rising Islamist activity in the region, the Government has announced.
Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said the 300-strong UK contingent with the United Nations peacekeeping mission is to end its three-year deployment early.
The move comes after President Emmanuel Macron announced in February that French-led forces fighting jihadists in the region would be relocating from Mali to Niger.
The decisions reflect growing concern in Western capitals that the military junta in Mali has increasingly aligned itself with the notorious Russian mercenary organisation - the Wagner Group.
In a Commons statement Mr Heappey said: “Responsibility for all of this sits in Bamako. Two coups in three years have undermined international efforts to advance peace.
“The Wagner Group is linked to mass human rights abuses and the Malian government’s partnership with the Wagner Group is counterproductive to lasting stability and security in their region.
“This Government cannot deploy our nation’s military to provide security when the host country’s government is not willing to work with us to deliver lasting stability and security.”
He added: “The military instrument should not be deployed on counter-insurgency or countering violent extremism missions unless there is a clear and compelling commitment towards political progress.”
The military government in Mali has looked to the Wagner Group to bring order to the country but their involvement has been marked by allegations of atrocities.
Mr Heappey said the UK would continue to work with France and other allies to “rebalance” the UK’s deployment in West Africa.
He said that he would be joining a regional conference next week in the Ghanaian capital Accra to co-ordinate a renewed response to security in the region.
British troops from the Light Dragoons and the Royal Anglians were originally deployed to Gao in the east of the country in 2020. Boris Johnson said at the time it showed the UK could be a “force for good”.