The United Nations Security Council today authorized the deployment to Mali of 11,200 peacekeepers and a separate French unit to stabilize the land-locked African nation and fight Islamist insurgents.
The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution paving the way for UN peacekeepers, flanked by 1,440 police officers, to take over July 1 from about 7,000 African troops.
As a former colonial power with the most at stake in Mali, France will maintain a presence after its January intervention that was aimed at ridding the northern part of the country of Islamist militants. The resolution says a smaller French force will be in place in the north to “use all necessary means” if Mali again comes under “imminent and serious threat.”
The UN force “will need to take quick steps to protect vulnerable civilians and lay the groundwork to help the government address problems that gave rise to the crisis, such as a weak rule of law, impunity and deep-seated ethnic tensions,” said Philippe Bolopion, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch in New York. “The challenges ahead are daunting.”
France has been mapping 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.
That managed transition to a larger UN force and France’s commitment to stay on with a focus on counterterrorism seek to respond to concerns that extremism has taken root in Mali’s sparsely inhabited north while the south is plagued by political instability, corruption and lawlessness.
Those plans will be tested by the resilience of the jihadists and rebels groups 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 guerrilla-style fighting has emerged.
France’s Defense Ministry said today that the country’s military intervention in Mali has cost 205 million euros ($267 million) beyond what the armed forces would have spent anyway.
The French troops, which numbered 4,000 at the height of the intervention, will be down to 2,000 by July and 1,000 by December, French Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters.