MINUSMA Mali
Gao, Mail- UN Peacekeepers from Senegal on an early morning patrol in Gao, Mali on Sunday, January 15, 2017. Despite the end of the occupation, many Malians find that security is still a major issue speaking of incidents of car jacking and looting. Even though crime is high, most of the deadly attacks that occur are against the United Nations Minusma mission, Malian soldiers and the French military. (Jane Hahn for the Washington Post)

GAO, Mali

Since World War II, U.N. peacekeepers have been dispatched to 69 conflicts — civil wars, border disputes and failed states. But now they are confronting an unsettling new threat: al-Qaeda.

Here in the vast, lawless desert of northwest Africa, their convoys are being torn apart by improvised explosive devices and their compounds blasted by 1,000-pound car bombs. It is a crisis that looks more like the U.S. ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than the cease-fires traditionally monitored by U.N. missions.

In the past four years, 118 peacekeepers have been killed — making the U.N. mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, the world body’s deadliest ongoing peace operation. The bloodshed has raised questions about how an institution developed in the 1940s can serve a world under threat from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The issue is especially potent given the expectation that U.N. peacekeepers will eventually go to places such as Syria and Libya.

“We are trying to learn these lessons here, rather than in Iraq, Libya or Syria,” said Dutch Col. Mike Kerkhove, commander of the U.N. intelligence unit in Mali. “This is not the end of this type of mission. It’s the beginning.”

In 2012, Islamist radicals linked to al-Qaeda hijacked an uprising by ethnic Tuareg people and went on to seize cities across northern Mali, holding on for nearly a year until they were forced out by a French military intervention. When 11,000 U.N. troops arrived in 2013, they were meant to protect a fledgling peace deal and train the Malian army. But Islamist extremists regrouped across the region. It did not take long before the militants started targeting peacekeepers, whom they dubbed “Crusader occupation forces.”

A U.N. police officer stands guard on a night patrol in the northern city of Timbuktu. The U.N. mission in Mali marks the first time a significant peacekeeping contingent has been sent to help a state regain control over areas contested by terrorist groups.
A U.N. police officer stands guard on a night patrol in the northern city of Timbuktu. The U.N. mission in Mali marks the first time a significant peacekeeping contingent has been sent to help a state regain control over areas contested by terrorist groups.

The United Nations was remarkably unprepared for the threat. Most of its troops from Africa and South Asia brought tanks and vehicles that were easy targets for explosives, unlike U.S. mine-resistant vehicles. The U.N. compounds, dotted with metal storage containers turned into offices­ and bedrooms, had flimsy perimeter security and were vulnerable to the massive car bombs used by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the regional affiliate of the extremist group. For a while, U.N. forces­ didn’t have a single attack helicopter.

“We weren’t ready for these challenges,” said Mohamed El-Amine Souef, a native of the Comoros Islands who is the top U.N. official in Gao, a city in northern Mali. Last year, Souef’s compound was struck by a suicide bomber, the shrapnel battering his front door.

But the United Nations’ dilemma goes beyond a lack of preparation or anti-terrorism equipment. At its New York headquarters and around the world, diplomats are debating: Should U.N. forces be engaged in counterterrorism at all?

“It’s time for us to realize that this kind of front-line role is central to the future of the United Nations,” said Peter Yeo, a senior official at the U.N. Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that supports the goals of the world body.

Yeo and others argue that without a counterterrorism capability, U.N. peacekeepers can’t operate productively in many of the world’s war zones.

But critics say that such a role would violate the peacekeepers’ core principle of impartiality and ultimately make them less effective.

“Peacekeepers are only meant to use deadly force to protect civilians or to stop spoilers from threatening a peace process, not to pursue any group’s military defeat,” said Aditi Gorur, director of the Protecting Civilians in Conflict program at the Stimson Center, a Washington-based research center.

MINUSMA Mali


MINUSMA Police


Jihadistes Mali


If peacekeepers had a more aggressive counterterrorism mandate, she and others argue, that could hurt the United Nations’ ability to mediate between warring groups, which sometimes include violent Islamists.

Already in Mali, the International Committee of the Red Cross has described the United Nations as a “party to the conflict.”

In the slide-show presentation he shows to visitors at his base in Bamako, the capital of Mali, Kerkhove includes an aerial photo taken last year of a compound that appeared to be used by a terrorist group. When he received the photo, Kerkhove debated what to do.

The men inside might be planning an assault on U.N. personnel, he thought, or a strike against civilians. Over the past two years, extremist groups have used Mali as a staging ground for attacks on luxury hotels, beach resorts and restaurants in West Africa. In 2016, al-Qaeda and its allies and affiliates launched at least 257 attacks in the region, according to the Long War Journal. But Kerkhove knew that the nearest battalion of U.N. troops, from Senegal, didn’t have the weapons or air support to engage in a fight with trans­national terrorists. Ultimately, U.N. forces­ decided not to approach the compound.

The Mali mission is the only one of the 16 active U.N. peacekeeping operations that authorizes troops to deter and counter “asymmetric threats” — that is, terrorist groups — that could harm its work or civilians. Last year, the U.N. Security Council said the mission should become “more proactive and robust” — language that some read as encouraging more offensive operations.

Dangerous Mission

“We need to be able to hit the terrorists where they are, before they hit us,” said Souef, the U.N. official in Gao.

But peacekeepers worry that they don’t have the tools to deal with armed extremists.

“We are gathering the intelligence, but we lack the forces­ who can act on that information,” said Swedish Lt. Col. Per Wilson.

Richard Gowan, an expert on U.N. peacekeeping at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, said that U.N. missions lack the resources­ and doctrine for counter­terrorism work. He noted that even well-equipped Western military forces­ were outmaneuvered by terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It is reasonable to ask why on earth the Security Council thinks that a U.N. force can do any better in Mali, even with European reinforcements,” he said.

Over the years, the United Nations has increasingly had to confront the scourge of terrorism. Militants blew up its political assistance office in Baghdad in 2003, killing 22 people, including the U.N. envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

But the Mali mission marks the first time a significant peacekeeping contingent has been sent to help a state regain control over areas contested by terrorist groups.

Minusma


In a review in 2015, a panel of U.N.-appointed experts said that peacekeeping forces­ were “not the appropriate tool for military counter­terrorism operations.” But it noted they do deploy in areas threatened by armed extremist groups “and must be capable of operating effectively and as safely as possible therein.”

On their patrols through the sandy side streets of Gao, an ancient city along the Niger River lined with mud-brick houses, U.N. convoys are greeted by throngs of residents.

The locals always have the same complaint, said Senegalese Capt. Diagne Meth, standing outside his armored personnel carrier during one patrol: “They want us to do more.”

Specifically, he said, they ask for more offensive operations, targeting radical Islamists as well as criminal groups.

“But I have to tell them, ‘That’s not what we’re here to do,’ ” Meth said.

Already, the United Nations has tried to adapt in Mali. It has a fleet of surveillance drones. It has the first U.N. intelligence cell, a Bamako-based unit with analysts spread across the country. It has counter-IED specialists. It also has thousands of European troops, including large contingents from Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, with soldiers experienced in fighting in Afghanistan.

Other U.N. missions have evolved in recognition of new threats. In Congo in 2013, for example, the United Nations launched its first brigade designed for offensive operations.

But the terrorism threat in Mali sets it apart.

“Sending out a patrol might work to deter an armed group in the Congo from engaging in violence, but it has the opposite effect in Mali, where terrorists are specifically trying to target peacekeepers,” said Gorur, of the Stimson Center.


Market stalls are set up as shoppers buy goods in Gao, an ancient city along the Niger River.
Market stalls are set up as shoppers buy goods in Gao, an ancient city along the Niger River.

More than a year and a half ago, Mali’s government signed a peace deal with separatist rebels in the north from the Tuareg and Arab communities. Authorities hoped the radical Islamists who had once aligned themselves with the local rebels — and later fallen out — had been driven away. But today, the terrorists appear stronger than ever.

The French military continues to conduct its own counter­terrorism mission across northwest Africa, including in Mali. The United Nations shares information with the French if it is deemed useful for protecting the lives of troops.

On Jan. 18, Islamist extremists drove a truck laden with explosives into a compound in Gao where the United Nations was protecting Malian ­forces. Seventy-six men — from national forces­ and armed groups that had joined the peace process — lost their lives in the blast. (No peacekeepers were killed.) The attack was claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which said it involved one of its allies, al-Mourabitoun.

The explosion was staggering, but so was the lack of security at an installation ostensibly protected by peacekeepers. Three days before the attack, a visiting Washington Post reporter saw only a few Bangladeshi peacekeepers sitting inside a personnel carrier outside the compound. Terrorist groups had already struck U.N. facilities in the city several times, but the base was protected by only a flimsy metal gate.

Souef, the U.N. official, acknowledged that his own compound in the city was vulnerable.

“We shouldn’t be living in a place like this,” he said.


A U.N. peacekeeper stands near a FAMA (Armed Forces of Mali) checkpoint on the outskirts of Timbuktu.
A U.N. peacekeeper stands near a FAMA (Armed Forces of Mali) checkpoint on the outskirts of Timbuktu.

Story by Kevin Sieff
Photos by Jane Hahn
Published on February 17, 2017


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, is the deadliest ever. MINUSMA has the highest death toll for an ongoing operation, but more peacekeepers were killed in the 1991-’95 U.N. mission in the former Yugoslavia, or UNPROFOR. The article has been updated.

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20 COMMENTAIRES

  1. comrades although UN mission in Mali is dangerous it should not be overlooked that it was made dangerous by failure to allow military of Mali with ECOWAS in military support to resolve terrorist matter to completion. That failure is evidence of a hidden agenda by foreigners likely with goal they have possess for last 700 years of to rob Buntu of any plus all wealth Buntu possess. Evolution show us that way of foreigner is confusing, demeaning plus prohibitor of due development for Buntu. In fact even way foreigners have us speaking is confusing such as term her usually exclusively applied to females plus term he applied to males exclusively but foreigners have us using those terms interchangeably to degree they are confusing to all except those who decipher code language or those who have knowledge afore on matter. Yes Buntu are is in desperate need of return of Buntu Julu plus Buntu way cries out for them. Buntu men were men when who wanted to be understood clearly in what they say thus did not use confusing language plus Buntu women were same. This stupid foolishness of gender terms being used interchangeably should be deserted where it is not clear nor should it use be tolerated by us of foreigners. We have loss to much due to deceitful languaged contracts or/plus agreements drafted by foreigners. In addition all other Buntu treaties should be managed places besides Algeria. Only a Buntu fool would go to Algeria to negotiate a contract for Buntu especially when we are in controling position. please let us stop being stupid being stupid coomit stupid actions plus stupid actions kill Buntu? Very much sincere, Henry Author Price Jr. aka Obediah Buntu Il-Khan aka Kankan.

  2. Threat under Chapter VII of the UN Charter is obsolete and should be replaced by Threat 4S Co-enterprise security developed at the Centre SĂ©nĂ© d’Ă©tudes stratĂ©giques sur le Co-entrepreneurial. Based on a Vision of globalisation on co-entrepreneurship of shared prosperity, stability, peace and security under which the contributing nations to minusma will earn 40% of Wealth Retention capacity in any Branch of all emerging or restructured economic co-entreprises like for gold production in Kidal and provide 60% of Security Resources of the emerging Security co-entreprise of Africa with headquarter in Taoudeni. AFRICAN nations will provide 40% Security Resources for combat.
    other African nations will earn 15% of Wealth Retention capacity, 5% for Localités within Kidal for gold, for example, and 40% for all Malian economic agents.
    Similar arrangement for each Branch economic or security co-entreprise across Africa.

  3. Of curse all we need is a prayer cause the un keep using them as trash actually we dont have any particular probleme but the france keep fomatting making false allegation .lying ploting against this peacefull contry .anything happening in north mali is a france hand work is a france plot is a france killing .the road side bomb is france hand work ..nobody are stupid .how come you can help arms somes just 500 hundres so call rebels or alqida or teroristes peoples against the democratic independant civilize laic contry .so we are stupid and not eather full .so my advise is un or france to play right to play honnest mature to play dignite to stop hyppocrisies if not is going to be worst then that cause we are not in 1960 anymore we are tire of loting we have somany death we are not finish entering or dead body

  4. Comrades let us be serious plus not stupid. Mali is a show piece for incompetent international military leadership that hide behind technological advancements. What is needed is a leader who is capable of efficiently fighting a winning war with resources available. Those who conceived plus managed this mission prepared plus managed it as if it was a walk in a park having no danger. End result is undue loss of many lives. Stupid is what stupid do whether it is a government or well established organization. This mission was designed using wrong process. Correct process is one which would have allowed MINUSMA to seek plus destroy any entity which armed plus posed a threat to MINUSMA existence plus successful completion of its mission. MINUSMA had neither weaponry, planning or leadership to successfully manage this mission where parties besides government of Mali to supposed peace process is allowed to have arms. Mere fact parties besides government is allowed to have arms open door to deception plus evil deed of killing without being punished as long as those who kill are members to a party of peace agreement. This exercise in stupidity will only be resolved by a duly armed government of Mali whose led by men seeking only condition of government of Mali having absolute control of security situation in Mali. Let us move further away from being stupid plus take necessary military actions which are in best interest of people of Mali security plus modern living development? Very much sincere, Henry Author Price Jr. aka Obediah Buntu IL-Khan aka Kankan.

  5. Le Mali ,notre beau pays n’etait pas sur la liste des pays a destabiliser .Mais la situation en Libye change notre pays en champ de batail en 2013.
    Les soldats Maliens peuvent defendre le territoire si et seulement si les occidentaux laissent les mains libre au gouvernement .Les tentances geopolitiques fait du Mali un lieu tres interessant et si tu vois que ce journal titre un article clair et net sur la situation attendez vous bientot les choses vont battre a pleins.
    Le futur nous appartient.Mali le beau .CMA ,MLNA FAISONS LA PAIX ,VENEZ AU DIALOGUE .

  6. Faites attention quand les journaux oxyde taux routeurs de troubles s’intĂ©resse Ă  votre pays…
    C’est qu’ils veulent justifier des envois de soldats dans votre pays etc… Comme les mensonges de l’affaire ko ni en Ouganda etc…

    Le Washington poop n’explique pas que si l’armĂ©e franssaise avait laissĂ© l’armĂ©e malienne sĂ©curisĂ© Kidal comme les autres rĂ©gions du Mali, il y aurait moins de violence….

    Je ne me torcherai mĂȘme pas mon –**** avec le Washington poop!

  7. Les fonctionnaires des nations unies sont malhonnĂȘtes !! Tous savent que si la France n’avait pas empĂȘchĂ© l’armĂ©e malienne de rentrer a Kidal, le Nord du Mali serait plus sĂ»r!!! MĂȘme la CEDEAO ne pipe mot sur notre situation parce que ADO et Macky Sall sont infĂ©odĂ©s au colonisateur Français. L’histoire vous jugera pour avoir trahi l’Afrique.

  8. Ne repete pas les betises car meme washington post s’etait corrige. C’est un faux titre et une fausse information. CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, is the deadliest ever. MINUSMA has the highest death toll for an ongoing operation, but more peacekeepers were killed in the 1991-’95 U.N. mission in the former Yugoslavia, or UNPROFOR. The article has been updated.

  9. Monsieur le journaliste ne repeter les betises car meme washington post s’etait corrige. CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, is the deadliest ever. MINUSMA has the highest death toll for an ongoing operation, but more peacekeepers were killed in the 1991-’95 U.N. mission in the former Yugoslavia, or UNPROFOR. The article has been updated.

    • I do agree with you friend.
      But our situation is way beyond in the hands and ladji bourama woloni kabakoh and his gang of useless.
      Bref tant aussi longtemps qu’il y aurait pas dautres poids pour basculer la cause actuelle vers le peuple. Cette merde de crise crĂ©ee de toutes pieces, Nous n’auront plus La paix et la stabilitĂ©.

  10. D’accord, les photos sont assez Ă©loquentes pour se passer de commentaires… ! Mais puisque vous y avez ajoutĂ© quand mĂȘme un article ou un commentaire, en Anglais… Est ce qu’il n’aurait pas fallu le traduire en Français, d’autant que Maliweb est un Site Francophone, et que certains de vos fidĂšles ne sont pas Anglophone… ?

  11. Nous leur disons et rappelons nous sommes DANS UNE COMPÉTITION MONDIALE ÉCONOMICO POLITICO MILITARO RELIGIEUSE OÚ TOUS LES COUPS SONT PERMIS SANS AUCUN ÉTAT D’ÂME POUR FAIRE MAL DÉTRUIRE ASSERVIR SOUMETTRE DÉPOSSÉDER L’AUTRE ET OÚ IL N’Y A PAS DE PLACE POUR LES BÊTES LES COMPLEXÉS LES COUARDS LES CUPIDES LES FAIBLES LES FAINÉANTS LES FARFELUS LES IDIOTS LES INSOUCIANTS LES LAXISTES LES MÉDIOCRES LES MENDIANTS LES NAÏFS LES PARESSEUX LES PEREUX LES PLEURNICHARDS LES RÊVEURS LES SENTIMENTAUX LES SYBARITES LES TARÉS

    *IL NE FAUT JAMAIS AU GRAND JAMAIS COMPTER SUR LES AUTRES OU UN TIERS POUR ASSURER LA SÉCURITÉ LA DÉFENSE DE SON PAYS AU RISQUE DE VOIRE SON PAYS SOMBRER DANS UN CHAOS INDESCRIPTIBLE TELS EN AFGHANISTAN L’IRAK ET OU VOIRE SON PAYS DIVISÉ EN DEUX ENTITÉS DISTINCTES TELS EN YOUGOSLAVIE AVEC SA BALKANISATION LE SOUDAN AVEC SA SOUDANISATION etc

    *les responsables des soldats sous mandat de renouvellement en renouvellement de mandats ont Dit et RĂ©pĂ©tĂ© Dans Plusieurs Langues de l’ONU Allemand Anglais Arabes chinois Français russe etc qu’Ils Ne Sont Point au Mali Pour Combattre les Voyous de Fameux Terroristes Faux Djiahadistes Faux Islamistes Et qu’Ils Ne le Feront Jamais Mais qu’Ils Sont au Mali Uniquement Pour S’interposer Ă  l’AvancĂ© des Forces de DĂ©fense et de SĂ©curitĂ© du Mali vers le Pays Kidal Pour Prendre Position aux FrontiĂšres Nord du Mali Jusqu’à la Kidalisation Effective du Mali de Renouvellement en Renouvellement de Mandats Tels Ils l’ont Fait en Yougoslavie avec Sa Balkanisation au Soudan avec Sa Soudanisation etc de Renouvellement en Renouvellement de mandats Et jusqu’à la « chaotisation indescriptible » du Mali tels en Afghanistan en Irak de renouvellement en renouvellement de mandats

    *si les soit disant amis ennemis les Autres Anciens Colonisateurs et Autres Organisations voulaient mettre fin Ă  la prĂ©sence de ces Voyous Qui Ne Sont Point Des Foudres de Guerre Ils l’Auraient Fait Depuis Fort Longtemps Car Ils En Ont Les Moyens Seuls Sont ÉliminĂ©s lors de soit disant opĂ©rations anti Djihadistes anti Terroristes Ceux des Voyous Devenus IncontrĂŽlables et les autres sont Ă  « leurs Bons Soins » au « pays Kidal » d’oĂč ils partent pour attaquer les autres parties du Mali puis s’y replient rapidement

  12. Nous disons et rappelons tout le monde sait avec 1brin d’honnĂȘtetĂ© mĂȘme les tarĂ©s idiots de naissance et ceux qui refusent de connaitre la vĂ©ritĂ© d’1chose pour des raisons primaires primitives Ă©goĂŻstes partisanes que

    *les soldats sous mandat sont des soldats d’interposition qui maintiennent 1situation de mi paix mi guerre avec le pays divisĂ©s entre le pouvoir dit lĂ©gitime d’1part et les ennemis du pays d’autre part de renouvellement en renouvellement de mandats

    *la prĂ©sence des soldats sous mandats avec la mi paix mi guerre provoque le dĂ©placement massive de populations comme rĂ©fugiĂ©es de la zone oĂč elles sont basĂ©es vers les pays voisins avec exacerbation de massacres Ă  bases tribales raciales de renouvellement en renouvellement de mandats

    *la prĂ©sence de soldats sous mandats aggrave accentue la pratique « du marchĂ© noir » ou ou du commerce illicite et des trafics de tout genre dans les zones oĂč ils sont basĂ©s de renouvellement en renouvellement de mandats

    *la prĂ©sence des soldats sous mandats dĂ©tĂ©riore gravement l’économie des pays qui les reçoivent par l’augmentation importante des prix des biens de consommation dans les zones ils sont basĂ©s de renouvellement en renouvellement de mandats

    *la prĂ©sence de soldats sous mandats aggrave accentue la pĂ©dophilie le viol la prostitution le proxĂ©nĂ©tisme dans les zones oĂč ils sont basĂ©s de renouvellement en renouvellement de mandats

    *la prĂ©sence de soldats sous mandats aggrave accentue les grossesses non dĂ©sirĂ©es et la naissance d’enfants sans pĂšre dans les zones oĂč ils sont basĂ©s de renouvellement en renouvellement de mandats

    * la prĂ©sence de soldats sous mandats aboutit souvent Ă  la division et crĂ©ation de nouveaux Ă©tats ou Ă  la balkanisation Soudanisation des pays oĂč ils sont de renouvellement en renouvellement de mandats

    *les soldats sous mandat ne font que renflouer leur compte bancaire de renouvellement en renouvellement de mandats et ne sont pas prĂȘts Ă  mourir Ă  ĂȘtre tuĂ©s Ă  ĂȘtre explosĂ©s pour des inconnus Ils ne meurent le plus gĂ©nĂ©ralement que par accidents de mines d’engins attentats et « ces types de dĂ©cĂšs sont prĂ©vus car le risque zĂ©ro n’existe pas »

    *la prĂ©sence de soldats sous mandats est une bouffĂ©e d’oxygĂšne financier pour les pays pourvoyeurs de renouvellement en renouvellement de mandats

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