Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations Meeting on Mali: Peacekeeping in a Counter-terrorism Environment
Tomorrow afternoon (31 July), the Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, a subsidiary body of the Security Council currently chaired by Chad, is expected to meet to discuss the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the challenges of peacekeeping in a counter-terrorism environment. Briefings are expected by Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations; Mick Lorentzen, Director of Regional Operations for the Department for Safety and Security; Ambassador Smail Chergui, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security; Alexis Lamek, France’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN; and Ambassador Sekou Kassé, the Permanent Representative of Mali to the UN.
In preparation for the meeting tomorrow—which, in addition to Council members, is open to other member states and observer missions—Chad has distributed a concept note outlining the operational, political and financial implications of operating a peacekeeping mission in Mali. From an operational standpoint, the concept note argues that asymmetric threats hinder the willingness of peacekeepers to travel from their bases, thus limiting their interactions with locals and making it difficult for MINUSMA to carry out critical elements of the mandate, including the protection of civilians and cease-fire monitoring. It states that asymmetric threats can disrupt supply lines— negatively affecting the mission’s ability to patrol in isolated areas—and can cause contingents to place more limitations on their operations. From a political standpoint, the concept note states that MINUSMA’s operational difficulties can (and already do, to a degree) harm the standing of the mission among the population and dissuade potential troop contributors from deploying peacekeepers. Regarding the financial impact, the concept note highlights budgetary consequences of operating in such a complex environment, including expenses related to training personnel to counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and to providing force enablers such as aircraft to transport troops and evacuate wounded personnel.
In light of these challenges, the concept note poses a number of issues for the Security Council’s consideration that may be addressed in tomorrow’s meeting. These include operational matters such as enhancing dialogue between the Council and potential and current MINUSMA troop and police contributors “to strengthen their capacities and increase their interoperability;” ensuring that MINUSMA’s concept of operations and its rules of engagement—as well as the risks of deploying to Mali—are clearly recognised by troop and police contributors; and encouraging international efforts to train and equip the Malian Defence and Security Forces to conduct counter-terrorism operations. The importance of enhancing MINUSMA’s political efforts is underscored. The concept note refers to the report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, which distinguishes between conflict management and peace implementation settings, and notes that: “Arguably, MINUSMA is tooled with a peace implementation mandate…in a conflict mandate setting…a discrepancy [that] poses serious problems because the concepts, tools,…structures and doctrine” of the mission are not compatible with the environment. It also advocates for enhancing awareness in the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee of the financial impact that operating in Mali’s asymmetrical setting imposes on the budgetary requirements of MINUSMA.
Council members have been concerned by frequent attacks by terrorist groups targeting MINUSMA and civilians in northern Mali, resulting in high casualty figures. Most of MINUSMA’s casualties have been the result of IEDs, although ambushes and suicide bombings have also been a problem. Given the high numbers of casualties, there have been tensions between troop contributors willing to deploy their forces in the most dangerous areas and other, more risk-averse contributors.
On 17 June, shortly before the Council renewed MINUSMA’s mandate for one year with the adoption of resolution 2227 on 29 June, it was briefed on the asymmetrical challenges facing MINUSMA by the mission’s force commander, Major General Michael Lollesgaard (S/PV.7474). (This was in the context of the annual briefing to the Council by force commanders.) Lollesgaard emphasised effective intelligence gathering and communication with the population as critical tasks for the success of the mission. He called for enhanced training, especially “counter-IED training,” and improved logistics in hostile areas-themes echoed in the concept note.
Tomorrow’s meeting will be the fifth one of the Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations this year. Other meetings this year have addressed the following issues: traditional peacekeeping versus peace enforcement; asymmetric threats (with a focus on improvised explosive devices); the work of the High-level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations; and lessons learned from the AU Mission in Somalia. Many of the challenges addressed in these earlier meetings will likely be relevant to tomorrow’s discussion.