Tag Archives: Operation Juniper Micron

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.

US to Support Peacekeepers in CAR

But not like it did when French forces intervened in Mali in January.

Today, the US Department of State issued a statement in which it detailed the planned US support to African Union and French forces in Central African Republic.  Here is the text of the release:

The United States commends yesterday’s actions by French military forces, in coordination with regional forces, to begin the process of restoring security to the people of the Central African Republic (CAR). We believe that France’s strong leadership in committing 800 additional troops and their support to the African Union-led stabilization mission in the CAR (MISCA) sends a forceful message to all parties that the violence must end.

We are deeply concerned by the worsening violence in the CAR, which has resulted in a growing humanitarian crisis and increased the risk of mass atrocities. Yesterday, we voted in favor and co-sponsored the UN Security Council’s strong resolution that gives MISCA, and French forces in support of MISCA, Chapter VII authority to restore security and bring peace to a people that have suffered for too long. We intend to provide $40 million in equipment, training, and/or logistical support to MISCA to strengthen its capacity to implement this mandate, and stand ready to assist our African Union partners and French allies as the need arises.

This follows from yesterday’s daily press briefing at State, where Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said that the United States would not be providing support akin to that given to the French in Mali, nor were their any plans currently to provide such support.  In addition, Harf said that the US currently favored the continued operation of the African-led  International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) over a UN peacekeeping force.  When asked why this was the case, Harf told the press corps “I’m happy to see if there’s more information on why we feel that way.”

Following the launch of France’s Operation Serval in Mali in January, the US launched Operation Juniper Micron to support the rapid deployment of French forces into the country.  This support had continued into the fall, but as of October, the US said it had not received any request for additional support.  The French, however, had prepared for increased intervention in CAR by deploying additional forces to neighboring Cameroon.  These forces promptly moved into CAR following the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2127 yesterday.

Peacekeeping Forces Across Africa Expand, Extend Mandates

France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today that the country would send an additional one thousand troops to Central African Republic, which the UN warns is rapidly descending into chaos.  As in Mali, the stated aim of this force, which roughly triples the size of French force deployed to CAR, is to immediately improve the security situation before the planned deployment of an African-led force to the country in six months.  Currently, just over four hundred French troops are deployed to CAR, along with African peacekeapers assigned to the African-led International Support Mission in the CAR (MISCA).  The UN expects to transition MISCA into a UN-led force, with a strength of six thousand military personnel and almost two thousand police personnel, next year.  This is again similar to the model used in Mali, where an African-led force transitioned to a UN-led force this summer.

Map of Central Africa Republic

Map of Central African Republic

France’s established position in Africa, including its permanent basing of military forces there, has led it to take a leading role in a number of interventions on the continent recently, most notably its operation in Mali, which began in January with significant US support.  In Mali, however, the French have had to delay their planned withdrawal as the security situation remains tense and as it becomes unclear whether the UN-mandated force will be able to fully assume responsibility for the peacekeeping operation there.  It is possible that the French might experience similar difficulties extricating themselves from CAR.  These difficulties in rapidly deploying regional forces for such contingencies, along with the various security threats on the continent, are likely what prompted France’s chief of their defense staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, to suggest that it might be time to allow French forces on the continent greater latitude in their operations.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011.  The disputed Abyei region is shown shaded grey.

Map of South Sudan from the United Nations, dated October 2011. The disputed Abyei region is shown shaded grey.

In addition to the decisions regarding peacekeeping in CAR, the UN Security Council also urged greater efforts against the Lord’s Resistance Army, also operating in the region, and extended the mandate of peacekeepers on the Sudan-South Sudan border.  With regards to the LRA, the UNSC urged more support for the UN Regional Strategy against the group, which includes direct action, support for regional security forces, and addressing of the broader humanitarian situation in areas where the LRA operate.  The US has been significantly involved in this effort as well.  In Abyei, an oil-rich region disputed by Sudan and South Sudan, the mandate of UN peacekeepers has now been extended until May of 2014.  The mission had already been extended for six months in May of this year, at which time the size of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) was also enlarged to just over one thousand personnel.

Election Turnout in Mali Called “Abysmal”

The people of Mali went to the polls yesterday to cast votes for representatives to fill one hundred and forty-seven seats in the country’s new national assembly.  It is not immediately clear how many of Mali’s six and a half million eligible voters actually cast ballots, but Abdel Fatau Musah, director for external relations for the Economic Community of West African States is said to have described the turnout as “abysmal.”  Malian election officials are now in the process of counting the votes.  Over 1,000 candidates were registered for the elections and any races not decided in the first round will be decided in a run-off on December 15th.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013

While there were some reports of harassment of voters at polling stations in the country’s restive north, along with other reports of ballot boxes being stolen, the low voter turnout is of greater concern.  In talking about the turnout, Musah made mention of the possible “psychological effects” of a “country that was rocked by a terrorist attacks and with a coup d’état.”  However, it is just as likely that it is not just the effects of months of conflict, but that security concerns remain very clear and present despite significant outside intervention since January.  Maps released by US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in March showed the vast majority of the country to be essentially outside government control.  Militants have carried out numerous attacks, including high profile incidents against foreigners.

The French, who launched their intervention, codenamed Operation Serval, in January of this year, have been looking to extricate themselves from the country by early next year.  The hope would be that by that time UN authorized peacekeeping would be in a position to take over.  However, it is unclear whether this will necessarily be the case.  The French have already delayed their withdrawl timeline and US support for the operation, through an operation codenamed Juniper Micron, continued at least through October.

Also, on an unrelated note, things may slow down here at Codebook: Africa this week due to the demands of the Thanksgiving holiday.  Things will likely continue to be slow through to the new year, as well, because of the broader holiday season as well.  Rest assured, however, that I will be paying attention to developments and I will make time to mention anything notable that comes up.

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.