Transitioning from AFISMA to a United Nations Stabilization Operation MINUSMA

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Pymouss

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Pymouss

Thursday April 25, the Security Council of the United Nations unanimously approved a resolution put forward by the French government to bring in a UN peacekeeping force for Mali as of the July 1. Within the next 60 days the UN shall determine the area’s state of security is adequate to allow for their deployment of troops in July. If so, the UN would deploy a total of 12,600 “blue-helmets” of which a maximum of 11,200 soldiers and 1,440 police officers for an “initial period of 12 months,” making it the third largest force after those in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur. Amongst these forces, the troops from the International Mission for Support in Mali must be included, notably the Chadian and Nigerian soldiers. UN officials say that this mission will cost $800 million per year.

This UN-led stabilization mission also known as MINUSMA is meant to take over the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, which has been strongly backed up by French soldiers since January 2013. As stated in the resolution, the MINUSMA mission is to stabilize “the key population centers, especially in the north of Mali…. to deter threats, initiate and actively… take active effective… steps to prevent the return of armed elements to those areas.

France intervened in Mali in January after having been called upon for help by the Interim government. Instability and violence had been reigning in Mali for over a year as the Malian army set out to fight the Touaregs the rebels that lead the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and believed to have fought for Mu’ammer Muhammad el-Gaddafi in Libya – who had been pushing into the northern region of Malian territory. As the Malian army grew angry and disappointed by the ineptitude of their President Amadou Toumani Toure, incapable of solving the country’s food crisis and dealing with the MNLA taking over the North, military officers deposed the President on March 21, 2012. As the MNLA moved further into the Northern Region of Mali, Islamists linked to AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) began to take over northern cities as well. The two groups, at first, attempted to create an alliance, though turmoil developed as their interests and aims grew farther apart. As the Islamists extended their control in the North, where they imposed a strict form of Islamic law, fear that they would get to the Malian capital of Bamako brought upon the Malian Interim Government’s demand for foreign help.

The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, congratulates his country’s efforts: “Adopting this resolution is a success. It confirms the International Community’s unanimous support for the stabilization of Mali and especially the help brought by the French and Mali’s neighboring countries with their intervention.” With 4,000 French soldiers as well as West African and Malian troupes, the Operation Serval (French intervention in Mali initiated January 11) has managed to recapture 9 of the main northern cities that had been rebel controlled, including Tessalit on the Algerian border.

However, Islamists remain hidden in the Massif Ifoghas, an area made up of wide shallow valleys, which make it an easy and deceiving hiding place for the Islamists. The French troops have dubbed the region “Mars” due to its appearance and extreme heat. Since January, the fatalities have amounted to 6 French soldiers, 63 Malian soldiers, 36 Chadian soldiers and approximately 600 Islamists.

The role of the UN peacekeepers also includes instituting a “national political dialogue”, to organize “free, equal, and transparent” elections, as well as promoting a reconciliation with the Touaregs in the North. UN peacekeeping chief, Hervé Ladsous, has made it clear that there must be a firm distinction between peacekeeping and peace enforcement, and the latter shall not be the role of the “blue-helmets.” “The blue helmets are tasked with securing the main cities and roads but they will not be in Mali to engage jihadist fighters.”

The concern lies in the fact that the UN would be deploying troops in a country where peace has yet to be installed. Hence, in the need to maintain an offensive force, the French army will remove only parts of its army progressively. One thousand French soldiers will remain at least until the end of 2013 to “chase terrorists” whenever needed.

Currently the French force in Mali accounts for 3,800 soldiers, which will be reduced to 2,000 by July 2013. In order to strengthen Malian forces, the French Military officers are training these men to use gun shots and, most importantly, to defend their country whilst bearing in mind human rights – the Malian army was formerly known to frequently violate several human rights and otherwise behave impulsively.

Some, however, are less hopeful: the US Pentagon official, Michael Sheehan, described AFISMA as “a completely incapable force”.

In the scope of maintaining French and West African responsibilities in Mali, the French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, paid an official visit to Chad on Saturday April 27, during which he asked the President of Chad, Idriss Deby, to maintain a military presence in Mali during this “new phase.” Le Drian calls this new phase “a phase that is almost post-war.”

In the beginning of April, the Chadian Parliament had voted for a resolution to progressively withdraw their 2,000 soldiers in Mali. Nevertheless, Le Drian made it clear to Deby that it is necessary for the Chadian army to remain present in Mali in order to avoid a “void of security.” During his visit Le Drian said, “together with President Deby, we discussed the manner in which Chad will continue to intervene in Mali through the forces brought by the UN peacekeepers, and how France will continue to ensure the security of the Malian territory.”

As the sixth French soldier died on April 29, Le Drian and French President François Hollande pay sincere condolences to the family of the soldier whilst Le Drian reminds the public of “all the determination with which the French Nation has pursued its mission to eradicate terrorist groups in Mali and ensure the safety of populations.”


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