By Benjamin Villanti
By Benjamin Villanti
Morocco World News
New York, March 27, 2013
Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon laid out recommendations Tuesday afternoon for a possible UN peacekeeping force in Mali, in a report distributed to the UN Security Council.
In the report, the United Nations provides two options for a possible UN force to replace the French military that intervened in January against Islamist extremist groups that had taken over the northern half of the country. These extremist groups remain “a serious threat” according to the UN report.
In the first option the Secretary General recommends that the African forces, known as AFISMA, which are deployed alongside the French in Mali, would remain to provide security and combat terrorist groups. The UN role would be to carryout political tasks such as reconciliation between ethnic groups, assist in the organization of elections and human rights monitoring, which the report describes as representing equally critical challenges facing Mali.
AFISMA would be funded from mandatory contributions by the UN member states. It’s a proposal that departs from similar past arrangements in Darfur and Somalia, where funding for African forces was voluntary and, thus, often unreliable and insufficient. Under this option, a UN peacekeeping mission might replace AFISMA in the long term.
The second proposal recommends a ‘multidimensional’ UN peacekeeping operation along with a “parallel force” operating independently from the UN mission. The soldiers in AFISMA would be “rehatted” with blue helmets to make-up a UN peacekeeping force totaling 12,640 peacekeepers. The peacekeepers would maintain security in major population centers along with protecting civilians. The role of the parallel force in Mali would be to conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations against remaining extremist groups, which include al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
It is not clear in the report which country or countries might provide the ‘parallel force’. One UN official said this was because no decision had been made yet. The official noted that the UN was in discussions with the French, and that other options could be African countries, such as the Chadians.
A Security Council diplomat suggested that the counter-terrorism force could also be provided by Niger and the US, which recently set-up a drone base in Niger. The diplomat suggested that special forces from other Sahel and North African countries could also be considered.
Security Council countries as well as UN officials have said a UN peacekeeping operation could start to deploy by July in order to replace the French who are keen to leave Mali. In his proposal, however, the Secretary General did not provide a time frame for sending UN peacekeepers. Instead, the Secretary General writes in the report that the deployment should be “conditions-based.”
“The Secretary General is being more cautious. If by July, brilliant,” stated the same UN official, but who added that if security conditions were not sufficient for peacekeeping by July, the Secretary General would not want to rush the deployment. The UN official noted, however, that the decision to deploy a peacekeeping force remains that of the Council.
The Secretary General’s report highlights the remaining threat from Islamist extremist groups despite the blows dealt to them since the French intervention. In addition to the fighting that continues in the mountains north of Kidal, the report notes these groups are present throughout many other parts of the country, having “melted back into the population,” and they are well equipped and able to employ guerilla and terrorist tactics.
For this reason, the report predicts that a UN peacekeeping force “would likely face asymmetric attacks … and the use of rockets, improvised explosive devices and suicide bombs.” It explains that this situation would exceed the UN’s military capabilities and fall “outside the scope of United Nations peacekeeping doctrine,” in which peacekeepers should only use force in self-defense or, in some missions, to protect civilians; a big difference from being able to respond to terrorism attacks or threats. It is why both recommendations called for military forces to remain in Mali that can continue to combat these fighters.
At the end of his report, the Secretary General points out that Mali represents an unprecedented situation for UN peacekeeping, which he indicates is due to the jihadi presence. As Ban Kim Moon notes in his report, his proposals for a UN peacekeeping force “take into account the fact that the United Nations is operating in a new geopolitical context and faces threats that have not been encountered before in a peacekeeping context.”
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