German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses with troops in Gao
German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses troops in Gao, Mali May 2, 2019.Ê Reuters

Germany's government has decided to start withdrawing its troops from Mali in mid-2023, with the pullout to be completed by May 2024, several sources said on Tuesday.

Berlin has deployed some 1,000 troops to Mali, most near the northern town of Gao where their main task is to gather reconnaissance for the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA.

The future of the German mission has been doubt for a while because of recurring disputes with the ruling military junta in Bamako and the arrival of Russian forces in Gao, which added to Berlin's unease over an increasing Russian military presence in Mali.

On Tuesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock met in Berlin to take a decision.

While the defence ministry had lobbied for a withdrawal, the foreign ministry warned against leaving Mali to an increasing Russian presence and pushing for German troops to stay on.

The May 2024 deadline, first reported by Spiegel magazine, signifies a compromise as it means that the German troops may still be there for a presidential election in Mali.

In June, the military junta in Bamako issued a decree setting a two-year timetable, to be counted from March 2022, to hold elections and restore civilian rule.

The United Nations said it has not yet received official notification of the German withdrawal, adding MINUSMA and the people of Mali needed the continued support of other countries.

"The mission is currently assessing the impact of these withdrawals on its operations and we are already in discussions with a number of countries in order to fill any gaps," deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said.

In mid-November, Britain became the latest Western country to announce the withdrawal of its forces from Mali, saying it would pull out its 300 troops from MINUSMA.

MINUSMA was established in 2013 to support foreign and local troops battling Islamist militants, but in recent months there have been repeated instances of tensions between the Malian authorities and the mission.

Europe's relations with Mali have deteriorated since a military coup in 2020 and since the government invited fighters from the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked private military company, to support its fight against insurgents.

That prompted France to withdraw its troops earlier this year after almost a decade in Mali.

The Wagner Group began supplying hundreds of fighters last year to support the Malian military and has since been accused by human rights groups and local residents of participating in massacres of civilians - accusations it has not responded to.