Malian Special Forces Sustain Collaboration With Russia’s Wagner Group

Russian security IN Bangui

“The BAFS was the gateway for Wagner’s mercenaries into the center of the country.”

On 29 May, Le Monde, the French-language publication covering international affairs in France and Francophone countries, reported on the Malian Autonomous Special Forces Battalion (BAFS), which is the conduit for Russian Wagner mercenaries to support the Malian army. BAFS became widely known among Mali observers when one of its members, Colonel Assimi Goita, launched a coup in 2020 that brought himself into power. According to the article, BAFS’ importance increased after it participated in the military coup in 2020 and then helped topple the transitional government in 2021.[i] After this second coup, relations with France and other Western countries soured and the new coup leaders welcomed Wagner Group to support BAFS. Wagner now has 1,600 troops in Mali and its current objective is ostensibly to fight alongside the BAFS in counterterrorism operations in central Mali, according to the Le Monde article. However, the article claims summary executions have occurred when BAFS and Wagner Group operate together. Malian leaders claim “only terrorists” are killed in these operations and have vociferously rejected any criticisms of BAFS’ cooperation with Wagner Group, indicating that Wagner will remain in Mali.[ii]


“Massacre de Moura au Mali: ce que l’on sait des deux militaires sanctionnés par les Etats-Unis (Massacre of Moura in Mali: what we know about the two soldiers sanctioned by the United States)” (French daily with a focus on analysis and opinion and with socialist leanings), 29 May 2023.

Mali remains plagued by both security and political instability: the military retook power from civilians after two coups in August 2020 and May 2021.

The BAFS was the gateway for Wagner’s mercenaries into the center of the country. Deployed in Mali to help Bamako fight terrorism, the Russian private security group, which now has nearly 1,600 men on the ground, gained a foothold in the center of the country in early 2022.

It is from this locality that Wagner and the FAMA conduct a large part of their anti-terrorist operations in the center and during which several instances of abuses against civilians have been noted by humanitarian and human rights organizations.

The Malian government maintains that only “terrorist fighters” were killed by the army in Moura and it persists, moreover, in denying the presence of Wagner in the country, despite confirmations of the deployment of the group in Mali emanating from the Russian authorities.


[i] Mali’s first military coup occurred in 2020 when a group of soldiers from the Malian army mutinied and arrested President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita and forced him to resign and dissolve the government and National Assembly. Although the mutinying soldiers promised to hold elections and reinstate the constitutional system, no clear path for transition emerged. Subsequently, nine months later, in 2021, Mali’s military arrested the interim civilian president and prime minister whose appointments the previous military coup leaders had overseen, but now the coup leaders claimed that the cabinet formed by the civilian leaders violated the terms of Mali’s transition charter. Although that charter called for new democratic elections to be held in February 2022 to fully restore Mali to civilian rule, the coup leaders have not held those elections and remain in power. This has led to deteriorating relations with the West and has coincided with closer relations with Russia. See Ena Dion, “After Two Coups, Mali Needs Regional Support to Bolster Democracy,” United States Institute of Peace, 9 December 2021.

[ii] The mutiny by Wagner Group CEO Yevgeny Prigozhin in June 2023 seems to have little effect on Wagner’s presence in Africa, including in Central African Republic (CAR), where its force is larger than in any other African country. The Russian Ambassador to CAR has claimed there are 1,890 “Russian instructors” in the country, who are reportedly “running” the country alongside the CAR government and have “displaced” the former colonial and post-colonial power, France. See Al-Jazeera, “Russian envoy says 1,890 Russian ‘instructors’ are in CAR,” 3 February 2023.

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