As many as 11,200 United Nations peacekeepers and a special counterterrorist unit should be deployed to Mali to take over the fight against Islamic insurgents in the land-locked African nation, relieving France, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in a report.
Ban laid out Mali options for the UN Security Council in the 26-page document, obtained yesterday, as France seeks to withdraw 4,000 troops following its January intervention to rid the north of Islamist militants. About 7,000 African troops already there should become a UN peacekeeping force, Ban said.
“The crisis in Mali is complex and multilayered,” the secretary general said in submitting his recommended course of action to the council, which will need to vote on what kind of presence would help prevent Mali from sliding back into chaos.
As a former colonial power with the most at stake in Mali, the French are set to play an important if diminished role alongside a UN force of seven mobile infantry battalions, one reserve battalion and about 1,440 police operating in the north.
“Given the anticipated level and nature of the residual threat, there would be a fundamental requirement for a parallel force to operate in Mali (and potentially in the sub-region) alongside the United Nations mission in order to conduct major combat and counter-terrorism operations and provide specialist support beyond the scope of the United Nations’ mandate and capability,” Ban says in the report.
Ban’s recommendations came as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepared to meet over breakfast today in Paris partly to discuss restoring democracy in Mali, according to Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman. The top diplomats also plan to discuss the Syrian civil war.
France has been mapping out an exit strategy for Mali for months as the UN solidifies plans to turn African forces into so-called Blue Helmets, as UN peacekeepers are often known.
Those plans are now being tested by the resilience of the same Islamist militants who for 10 months controlled a vast, arid swath of Mali the size of Texas. While the French offensive drove the radicals into hiding, a pattern of guerilla-style fighting to retake the liberated city of Gao has emerged.
“An unknown number of fighters have sought refuge outside Mali or have melted back into the population, retaining weapons caches and the capacity to re-emerge,” Ban said in the report. “These groups are well equipped and trained. They have fought aggressively, and employ guerilla and terrorist tactics, including rockets, improvised explosive devices and suicide bombs.”
The situation complicates conditions for a smooth transition to a UN force and does little to quell concerns that extremism has taken root in Mali’s sparsely inhabited north while, in the south, a crisis in governance encompasses corruption, political instability and almost no rule of law, according to the report.
“The assumption of security responsibilities by the mission would only take place once the necessary security and political conditions were deemed to be in place,” Ban said.