Tag Archives: MINUSMA

Dutch Deploy to Mali as French Plan to Withdraw

President Francois Hollande announced on Wednesday that France would be reducing its force in Mali, which currently stands at approximately twenty-five hundred personnel.  France had deployed thousands of troops at the peak of its intervention, Operation Serval, which began in January 2013.  France is now looking to reduce its contribution in the country down to some sixteen hundred individuals by the middle of next month.

French forces conduct operations in Mali, circa July 2013

French forces conduct operations in Mali, circa July 2013.

The French are hoping to shift some of the burden onto other nations contributing forces to the UN mission in the country, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  Among these contributors are the Dutch, who announced in November that they were planning on sending a contingent to the country.  In December, the Dutch parliament approved the deployment of a force of almost four hundred individuals and associated equipment in support of the MINUSMA mission.  The Dutch had previously assisted in the rapid deployment of French forces in the open phases of Operation Serval, along with other nations like the United States.  The US effort, codenamed Operation Juniper Micron, lasted well into last fall.

What is interesting about the Dutch deployment, which is scheduled to be completed by April, is its focus on improving intelligence capabilities.  MINUSMA has itself established an All Sources Information Fusion Unit (ASIFU) in the capital Bamako, to manage the flow of intelligence information to and from peacekeepers.  A need for greater intelligence has been a continuing issue for peacekeepers in Mali.  While international forces provide security in most large population centers and patrol Mali’s limited highway network, militants have continue to operate with a certain impunity outside of those areas, notably in the country’s sprawling and sparsely populated northern regions.  The lack of government presence in these areas has led them to have been referred to as ungoverned or under-governed spaces by the US in the past.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013.  This shows that at the time the area of operations for peacekeepers was limited almost entirely to Mali’s sparse road network.

To combat this, the French have recently begun deploying MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles to neighboring Niger, where the US also has a drone operation.  The French deployment is specifically focused on operations in Mali, while it is likely the US operation involved overflights there as well.  The US has been conducting intelligence overflights in the region for some time as part of operations like Creek Wind and Creek Sand.

A Fennek reconnaissance vehicle of the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan

A Fennek reconnaissance vehicle of the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan.

In this same vein, the Dutch contribution is centered around contingents from the Korps Commandotroepen (Commando Corps) and the Korps Mariniers (Marine Corps), with the primary mission of conducting long-range reconnaissance type missions.  These special operations forces type units will also look to seize and destroy arms caches and apprehend militants hiding in remote areas.  These units will be equipped with numerous light vehicles to support their mission, including the Fennek reconnaissance vehicle.  Also, the force will include four AH-64D Apache helicopters, again primarily to support reconnaissance efforts, but also capable of conducting show of force and fire support missions.  To help coordinate these efforts with the rest of MINUSMA, the Dutch will provide personnel to the ASIFU in Bamako.  A small contingent of military police to train Malian police and promote rule of law in the country round out the contingent.

An AH-64D Apache helicopter of the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan.

An AH-64D Apache helicopter of the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan.

Since the French intervention and subsequent establishment of MINUSMA last year, a certain calm has returned to Mali.  However, it remains to be seen whether the government and Tuareg rebels can reach an agreement on how to end their dispute.  The Tuareg insurgency is a significant part of the current crisis.  The other significant factor is Islamist militants, said to be linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  The leader of one of these groups, Mokhtar Belmokthar, who’s al-Mulathamun Battalion was recently declared a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US, released a new threat yesterday against the French in North Africa specifically over operations in Mali.  The Tuaregs and the Islamists have their own on-again off-again relationship, further complicating matters.  International forces have primarily focused on controlling Islamist groups rather than the Tuaregs.

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France Looks to Cut Forces in Mali as Focus Shifts to C. Africa

France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made a visit yesterday to Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic.  France has approximately sixteen hundred personnel currently in CAR as part of Operation Sangaris and Le Drian praised their efforts.  He also reiterated that French forces were there to assist the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) and would not take on any expanded role in the country.

Map of Central African Republic

Map of Central African Republic

The visit to CAR follows a visit to Mali, where Le Drian announced that French forces there would be reduced to approximately one thousand personnel by March of this year. French forces are currently operating their as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  This past December, France also announced its intention to deploy MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles to Niger to assist operation Mali.  The first of these was reportedly deployed yesterday.  The US also has a unmanned aerial vehicle operation based in Niger.  Unlike American MQ-9s, French Reapers will not be armed.

An American MQ-9 Reaper returns to base after a mission in Afghanistan.  French Reapers will not be armed like this one.

An American MQ-9 Reaper returns to base after a mission in Afghanistan. French Reapers will not be armed like this one.

However, if the experience in Mali and the continuing violence in CAR are any indications, France may have a hard time keeping to Le Drian’s promises.  Though a certain status quo has been restored in Mali, significant points of contention remain between the country’s government, Tuareg nomads, and Islamists, some of whom are believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda.  France had initially hoped to have departed from Mali in part or in total by as early as April 2013, and has since continually pushed back any significant reductions in the force there.  French forces have also been accused by both the Malian government and the Tuaregs of bias in the conflict.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013

In CAR, African peacekeepers have similarly been accused of choosing sides and there is some dissatisfaction from nominally Christian anti-balaka militia with the failure of the French intervention to outright oust current President Michel Djotodia.  Two French soldiers were killed by anti-balaka militiamen in CAR last month.  While it remains to be seen whether French forces in CAR will be reinforced in the end, unlike with the intervention in Mali, no indication of a planned withdrawal timetable has yet been given.

French Journalists Killed in Mali

Two French journalists were reported to have been killed in Mali after an apparent abduction by militants.  Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont, journalists working for the RFI radio station, were abducted in the northeast town of Kidal after interviewing a local political leader.  French authorities confirmed and condemned the attack.  The abduction comes after France had announced earlier this week that hostages taken in Niger in 2010 by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had been released.  Reports regarding the negotiations that led to the release of those hostages suggested a ransom had been paid.

The reported nature of the attack provides an eye toward the level of government control in Mali at current.  Reports say that the pair were forced into a truck and promptly driven off into the desert.  While the Malian government has been able to stablize the situation in population centers to a degree, the bulk of the country remains largely outside their oversight.  French and African forces operating the country as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have been trying to rectify this, but they too have been largely limited to population centers and so-called lines of communication (mainly Mali’s limited road network). Some reports suggested that security forces followed the abductors in hot pursuit.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) had previously released a map of the state of affairs in Mali as of March of this year, showing the operating areas of French and the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA).  The map clearly showed the area of operations to be very limited and directly linked to the country’s road network.  The US supported and possibly continues to support the UN-backed operation as part of the US Operation Juniper Micron.