The U.N. Security Council is set to vote on Friday to end a decade-long peacekeeping mission in Mali after the West African country’s military junta abruptly asked two weeks ago for the 13,000-strong force to leave “without delay.”
The planned end of the operation, known as MINUSMA, follows years of tensions and government restrictions that have hobbled peacekeeping air and ground operations since Mali teamed up with Russia’s Wagner mercenary group in 2021.
U.N. peacekeepers are credited with playing a vital role in protecting civilians against an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands. Some experts fear the security situation could worsen when the mission departs, leaving Mali’s under-equipped army alone with about 1,000 Wagner fighters to combat militants who control swaths of territory in the desert north and center.
“It’s a Malian decision and we need to find the least horrible way to implement it,” said a Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Mali’s government has not responded to requests for comment.
When asking for MINUSMA to leave, Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop told the Security Council earlier this month that there was a “crisis of confidence” between the U.N. operation and the Malian authorities.
SIX MONTH WITHDRAWAL
The 15-member council is expected to adopt a French-drafted resolution that asks MINUSMA to start on Saturday “the cessation of its operations, transfer of its tasks, as well as the orderly and safe drawdown and withdrawal of its personnel, with the objective of completing this process by Dec. 31, 2023.”
U.N. officials have tried to show Mali that it was standard to have a longer drawdown period and that they are not resisting Mali’s request, said the Security Council diplomat, noting that a six-month withdrawal was already a huge compromise.
The council will also ask U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to work with the Malian authorities on a plan to transfer MINUSMA’s tasks and present it to the Security Council by Aug. 15. It also calls on Mali to cooperate fully with the United Nations during MINUSMA’s drawdown and withdrawal.
The draft resolution authorizes MINUSMA to – “within its immediate vicinity” – respond to imminent threats of violence to civilians and contribute to the safe civilian-led delivery of humanitarian assistance until Sept. 30.
Until Dec. 31, MINUSMA will also be authorized to provide security for U.N. personnel, facilities, convoys, installations and equipment and associated personnel; execute operations to extract U.N. personnel and humanitarian workers in danger and provide medical evacuations.
Mali has struggled to stem an Islamist insurgency that took root following an uprising in 2012. MINUSMA was deployed by the U.N. Security Council in 2013 to support foreign and local efforts to restore stability. Frustrations over the growing insecurity spurred two coups in Mali in 2020 and 2021.