Open VTC with the Heads of Military Components
Tomorrow (4 June) Security Council members will hold an open videoconference (VTC) with force commanders from UN peacekeeping operations. Force commanders from three missions—the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF)—are set to brief. They are expected to discuss their efforts to address operational challenges facing their respective missions in their work, including the impact of COVID-19.
The force commander briefings have been held annually since 2010. Last year, the meeting focused on cooperation with host states, with briefings by the Force Commander of the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the Force Commander of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).
General Dennis Gyllensporre of MINUSMA is expected to focus his briefing on the Secretary-General’s force adaptation plan and the safety and security of peacekeepers from attacks. The force adaptation plan was developed following last year’s mandate renewal of MINSUMA that authorised the mission, as a new “second strategic priority”, to support government efforts to stabilise the situation and protect civilians in central Mali. It seeks to provide MINUSMA with more specialised capacities, including air assets, to facilitate its presence in two major areas, northern Mali and central Mali.
With regard to the safety and security of peacekeepers, Gyllensporre may note the dangers of operating in an environment where peacekeepers are subjected to asymmetrical terrorist attacks. The Secretary-General’s recent quarterly report on MINUSMA notes that there were 26 attacks targeting MINUSMA during the reporting period (15 March to 2 June), resulting in the deaths of three peacekeepers and one contractor, and injuring 24.
Gyllensporre is also likely to mention the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mission. MINUSMA has made up the majority of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in UN peace operations. As of 27 May, 73 MINUSMA personnel and six members of the UN country team were confirmed positive for COVID-19. While 42 have recovered, in late May MINUSMA experienced the first two deaths among UN peacekeepers from COVID-19.
General Shailesh Tinaikar, the UNMISS Force Commander, may address how the mission’s military component is able to create an environment that supports the political process in South Sudan. In this regard, he could discuss the force’s efforts to support the mission’s early warning strategy, to deter violence against the population, and to mediate inter-communal conflict.
Tinaikar is also likely to address the impact of COVID-19 on the mission’s operations and efforts it has made to combat the spread of the virus. To date, UNMISS and UN agencies have pre-positioned nutritional supplies for vulnerable populations, distributed soap and buckets, and renovated hospitals, among other measures to this end. The number of reported cases of COVID-19 in South Sudan continues to rise steadily; as of 29 May, 994 cases had been reported in the country. There are concerns about the disease’s potential to spread in densely populated protection of civilian sites that the UN oversees.
General Maureen O’Brien, who serves as the Acting Force Commander of UNDOF, is expected to brief on UNDOF’s activities. UNDOF is mandated to maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria, and to supervise the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces as well as the so-called areas of separation (a demilitarised buffer zone) and limitation (where Israeli and Syrian troops and equipment are restricted) in the Golan Heights. The implementation of the mandate entails observing any violations of the 1974 Agreement, reporting them, and liaising with both sides. In addition to briefing on the mission’s efforts to fulfill its mandate, O’Brien may describe how the mission has continued to carry out its responsibilities in spite of measures taken to combat the spread of COVID-19, such as the closure of the Alpha gate, which is located on the Israeli side of the Quneitra border crossing.