Peacekeeping Force in Mali May Include Non-African Troops

Malian soldiers training at the Koulikori camp.
Malian soldiers training at a boot camp outside Bamako, the capital. SEBASTIAN WILKE/BUNDESWEHR

The new United Nations peacekeeping mission to be activated on July 1 in Mali will have not only a huge contingent of West African soldiers, who are training there right now, but could also have on board Brazilians, Chinese and Indian troops and, possibly, some Bangladeshis, according to a source with ties to the mission. These non-African “blue helmets,” as peacekeepers are known at the UN, will arrive in Mali in late June and are from seasoned troop-contributing countries to the UN. The West African soldiers have been training in Mali for the UN mission since early this year.

Additionally, the mission will apparently use antidrug police officers from Colombia to combat the illicit flow of drugs coming from South America to the West Africa coast and on to Europe, providing income to smugglers in the Sahel region.

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations would not verify the information about the additional peacekeepers joining the UN mission, called Minusma, for (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali). A press officer said in an e-mail, however, that “as we set up the new mission in Mali, we are in touch with our TCCs [Troop Contributing Countries], as usual. We have over a hundred of those.”

Minusma is to consist of approximately 13,000 military and police personnel who are slated to begin operations on July 1 with a mandate from the UN Security Council of one year to provide security to “key population centers.” The force will “rehat” the 6,300 West African troops training in Mali, who will be absorbed within the broader group of UN peacekeepers.

Hervé Ladsous, the peacekeeping chief, conceded at a news conference at the UN last week that some of the West African troops (who are called the Afisma force, for African-Led International Support Mission to Mali), were “pretty close” to UN standards in terms of number of “men” (850 personnel for each battalion) and equipment, but that some were not and that “quite a bit of work” was needed in that regard. “We have decided to give ourselves a few months” — four months, he added, to get troops in shape for deployment, Ladsous said, noting that military personnel were being given human-rights training and other vetting requirements by the UN.

The Afisma troops, led and organized by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), consist of soldiers  from the West African nations of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo. Chad is most likely to be donating troops as well, but details are still being worked out, Ladsous said. Security conditions in Mali were being evaluated in “real time,” he added, and though threatening “incidents” have occurred, they have not been “either spectacular” or shown a “very marked trend.”

Logistics for delivering equipment to Mali, a landlocked country, were also explained at the briefing. Some materièl will come through Senegal, on its train line from Dakar, the capital, to Bamako, while other goods will come in from Niamey, the capital of Niger, and from the UN peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast.

Albert Koenders will manage the Mali mission. He was appointed in May by the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. Koenders, a Dutchman known as Bert, has been the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast since October 2011. That mission will provide a “piggyback” role for Minusma, the UN said, while a light footprint will be set up in Bamako, with regional centers in Gao and Timbuktu and perhaps Sevaré offering the bulk of the support to troops.

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Dulcie Leimbach

Dulcie Leimbach

Dulcie Leimbach is the founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal) as well as from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio and Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. She has also worked as an editorial consultant to various UN agencies. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Colorado, graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver before she worked in New York at Esquire magazine and Adweek. In between, she was a Wall Street foreign-exchange dealer. Leimbach has been a fellow at Yaddo, the artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and was a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.

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