The U.N. Security Council voted Friday to end a decade-old peacekeeping mission to Mali, whose military junta urged the troops' removal as it aligns with Russia.
The vote came two weeks after Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop stunned the Security Council by calling the U.N. mission a "failure" and urging its immediate end.
Mali's relations with the United Nations have deteriorated sharply since a 2020 coup brought to power a military regime which also severed defense cooperation with France, the former colonial power.
The junta has aligned itself with Russia and brought in the Wagner Group, the ruthless mercenaries involved in a mutiny against President Vladimir Putin last week.
The Security Council vote triggers the departure of more than 13,000 troops, who although they didn't provide offensive roles, contributed to the security of large towns in northern Mali.
Once the departure takes effect, the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) will only have Wagner for a partner, which the ruling junta describes as "instructors."
The outlook for the land-locked nation is bleak, according to experts interviewed by AFP.
"The security vacuum already exists. But this is the final blow," said Djallil Lounnas of the Al Akhawayn University in Morocco.
"It wasn't Sabre or Barkhane," he said, referring to missions by French forces deployed until 2022, but the blue helmets "covered part of the territory."
The country extends over 1.24 million square kilometres (479,000 square miles), of mainly semi-desert terrain, neglected for years by the central government.
In Mali's wind- and sand- beaten land, power is disputed by armed groups that are signatories of the 2015 Algiers accords, which were never implemented - the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), which is Al-Qaeda-linked, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
"We deeply regret the transitional government's decision to abandon Minusma and the harm this will bring to the Malian people," senior U.S. diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis told the Security Council.
But he said that the United States voted for the resolution as it agreed with the timeline for withdrawal.
Under longstanding U.N. practice, a peacekeeping mission needs the approval of the host country.