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Informal Interactive Dialogue on UN Mission in Mali’s Mandate

This afternoon (10 November), Council members will participate in an informal interactive dialogue with Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous on the situation in Mali. (Informal interactive dialogues are off-the-record meetings chaired by the Council President and held in a meeting room other than the Council Chamber or Consultations Room. Although these meetings are usually held with high-level officials who are not part of the UN system, this format was chosen for this discussion to encourage more interactivity.)

The discussion is expected to focus on the relevance of the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in the current context of increasing asymmetrical threats. Briefing the Council on 8 October, Ladsous stated that MINUSMA is no longer operating in a peacekeeping environment (S/PV.7274) and on 9 October, MINUSMA Force Commander, Major General Jean Bosco Kazura told the Council that “MINUSMA is in a terrorist-fighting situation without an anti-terrorist mandate or adequate training, equipment, logistics or intelligence to deal with such a situation” (S/PV.7275). At the 8 October meeting in consultations, Ladsous proposed holding a brainstorming session to discuss MINUSMA’s current mandate and the need, if any, to reformulate it in the light of the changed security situation.

The key topic in the discussion is likely to be whether MINUSMA needs a more robust mandate in order to address the presence of terrorist groups in northern Mali that are deliberately targeting the mission. Since 1 July 2013, 32 peacekeepers have been killed and almost a hundred have been injured as a result of hostile acts; at least 21 of these peacekeepers have been killed since 2 September. Addressing the Council on 8 October, the Foreign Minister of Mali, Abdoulaye Diop, called for the Council to consider “establishing a rapid intervention force capable of effectively combating terrorists”. (The current mandate authorises the mission to use “all necessary means” to deter threats, to take active steps to prevent the return of armed elements to key population centres and to protect civilians under imminent threat of violence.)

There has been a discussion of including peace enforcement in MINUSMA’s mandate for some time. Already in March 2013, as the new mission in Mali was being discussed, the AU Peace and Security Council had asked the Council to give the mission a peace-enforcement mandate to “actively sustain efforts aimed at dismantling the terrorist and criminal networks operating in the north of the country” (S/2013/163). Some Council members have echoed this sentiment in consultations, asking questions about the appropriateness of a more robust mandate for the mission. However, it seems the Secretariat may be wary of establishing an intervention brigade such as the one in the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In a discussion note circulated ahead of the meeting, the Secretariat has apparently argued that many of the existing challenges of operating in the north of Mali—including the size and austere nature of the area, porous borders, the fluid and evolving nature of the threats, the absence of state authority and MINUSMA’s limitations in terms of deployment, training and equipment—would constrain the operational capacity of such a brigade. The Secretariat also appears concerned about being able to define the scope and target of the brigade as well as generating highly-equipped and trained forces with experience working on asymmetric threat environments to serve in the brigade. (MINUSMA has successfully generated well-equipped special forces to contribute to the mission but, given restrictions imposed by the troop contributors, they cannot be deployed in the most dangerous areas in the north.)

Another issue that may be raised in the interactive dialogue is precisely the difficulty the mission has had in generating troops, perhaps a result of the challenging operational environment. The ceiling of 11,200 military personnel and 1,440 police personnel provided for by resolution 2100 of April 2013 has not been reached yet, a year and a half after the establishment of MINUSMA.

Today’s meeting is also expected to explore ways in which the Council can encourage the successful conclusion of the Algiers peace talks between the Malian government and armed groups and define a potential support role for MINUSMA in the implementation of the peace agreement. The talks were suspended in mid-October after the Algerian mediation made a proposal to all the parties, who were given time to consider this proposal. Some of the armed groups have since provided a counter-proposal, and the talks are expected to resume in mid-November. Council members may share their thoughts on how to react to any failure to advance the political process. Among the possible options are the imposition of targeted sanctions against spoilers to ceasefire agreements and threatening sanctions to those obstructing the achievement of the potential peace agreement currently being negotiated.

During the meeting, it is likely that Ladsous will enumerate specific operational and financial measures that can be taken to support MINUSMA. Featuring prominently among these might be the need for adequate equipping and training of contingents to make all of them compliant with UN standards. As part of the re-hatting process from the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) into MINUSMA, troop and police-contributing countries were given a four month grace period until 31 October 2013 to meet UN standards for equipment and capability. However, this was not enforced and some former AFISMA troops have yet to meet these standards. Some members may raise the conclusions of the ministerial level meeting of African troop contributors in Niamey, Niger on 5 November, which stressed the need for enhanced financial and material support from the international community to contingents deployed in Mali. Members may also be interested in the deployment of a technical support mission from the Office of Military Affairs (OMA) to help reinforce the capacities of MINUSMA’s military sector in Kidal, which was announced during a briefing by the Deputy Military Adviser, Major General Adrian Foster and OMA officials on 7 November.

Other potential topics of discussion include cross-border illegal trafficking and the regional impact of insecurity in Mali. Apparently the Secretariat’s note highlights the need to address these issues, although it acknowledges that they are beyond the scope of MINUSMA’s mandate. In his March 2013 report on Mali (S/2013/189), the Secretary-General recommended that an expert group be established to identify those involved in transnational organised crime in Mali and the Sahel, with the possibility of imposing targeted sanctions. Although this recommendation has not been implemented, it is possible that some members may now want to give it further consideration.

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