UN Peacekeepers in Mali Rush to Depart Amidst Security Challenges
Under orders from Mali’s military leaders to vacate the country, United Nations peacekeepers are facing a hasty and perilous withdrawal, leaving them with the daunting task of destroying equipment left behind while navigating dangerous terrain. The directive to withdraw follows a coup in 2020, with the new regime deeming the peacekeeping mission a “failure” and questioning its involvement in human rights issues.
UN’s Exit Marks the End of a Decade-Long Effort
This operation, characterized by its urgency and considerable risks, marks the conclusion of a ten-year endeavor to stabilize Mali, a nation grappling with jihadist threats and a multitude of crises.
Challenges in a Hostile Environment
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) had a force comprising approximately 15,000 soldiers and police officers, but it has suffered significant casualties, with 180 members losing their lives in the line of duty. Recent reports indicate that 5,817 MINUSMA personnel have already departed from the mission.
Peacekeeping Amid Renewed Conflict
Originally, the peacekeeping force was scheduled to withdraw by the end of the year, but the UN troops began vacating their compounds earlier than planned, with some departures as early as July. The withdrawal of MINUSMA has exacerbated tensions among armed groups in northern Mali, particularly over the transfer of UN camps to the Malian army. Competing factions argue that this move violates ceasefire and peace agreements reached with Bamako in 2014 and 2015.
Increased Peril on the Ground
MINUSMA’s pull-out is further complicated by a resurgence of hostilities, including separatist groups’ opposition to the army’s presence and attacks by the Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) against the military. These challenges occur in the context of perceived restrictions imposed on the UN’s ability to maneuver by the Malian authorities.
Attacks and Equipment Losses
The withdrawal has been fraught with dangers for the peacekeepers, who have been attacked by armed groups as they leave their camps. The UN peacekeeping force reports having to destroy or decommission equipment, such as vehicles, ammunition, and generators, that could not be transported. MINUSMA cites restrictions imposed by the authorities, including the withholding of permits and import embargoes, as contributing to these equipment loss.
Tensions have escalated between MINUSMA and Mali’s military rulers. A confidential note to the UN Security Council highlighted the obstacles faced by MINUSMA, including restrictions on permits and security patrols around their camps. Mali’s government has accused former ally France, which also withdrew from the country, of influencing MINUSMA’s departure.
As the UN peacekeepers exit, tensions are projected to intensify, particularly in Kidal, a region marked by Tuareg rebellion and sovereignty disputes. Though the final departure from Kidal was initially slated for later in November, it may occur within a matter of days. Non-essential personnel are among the first to depart, prioritizing their safety amidst the unfolding challenges.