posted on Fri 20 Oct 2017 5:42 PM
Dispatches from the Field: Arrival in Bamako and Visit to Mauritania

(Bamako, Mali; Nouakchott, Mauritania) The first 24 hours of the Council’s visiting mission to the Sahel have focused mostly on assessing the operationalisation of the G5 Sahel joint force. Upon their arrival to Bamako yesterday (19 October), Council members held meetings with Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and with members of his Cabinet. The three co-leads (Ethiopia, France and Italy) presented the objectives of the visiting mission during these meetings: evaluating the magnitude of the threat in the Sahel, assessing the deployment of the G5 joint force, and expressing urgency in implementing in full Mali’s 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.

Regarding the G5 force, Council members discussed the options for supporting the joint force laid out by the Secretary-General in his 16 October report (S/2017/869), although the particulars of the options were not considered in detail. These are:

1. Security Council mandated UN support package
2. Security Council mandated logistical and soft support package
3. Support requiring an adjustment to the MINUSMA mandate
4. Support that could be provided by MINUSMA under its current mandate

While the US and others have expressed their preference for supporting the force bilaterally, most Council members are willing to provide support through the UN. The Secretary-General, whose first option would entail the establishment of a dedicated office funded through UN assessed contributions in the manner of the UN Support Office in Somalia, has urged the Council to be ambitious. Even though the Malian government has not expressed its preferences among the four options, it has stressed the need for UN support that should be sustainable and long-term. In broadly discussing the options, some Council members stressed how the force could help make the case for a more far-reaching Council response regarding financing if it performs well, while complying with human rights and international humanitarian law.

Minister of Defense Tiéna Coulibaly highlighted the challenges resulting from the lack of predictable funding that hamper the ability to respond to existing threats effectively. He also reiterated the G5 Sahel’s intention to reassess the initial setup budget for the mission, as requested by various international partners. (The initial budget is 423 million euros, of which about a quarter has so far been pledged.) The force’s initial operational capability was reached on 18 October. Joint operations are expected to commence before the end of this month, and the target date for reaching full operational capability is March 2018.

Council members also took advantage of these meetings to reiterate the importance of the Malian parties implementing in full the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement and reiterated their request for them to agree a timeline (“chronogram”) for its implementation. A 6 October press statement (SC/13019) issued by Council members included a considerable level of detail regarding members’ expectations of the parties. While acknowledging delays, President Keita reiterated his commitment to the implementation of the Agreement, and shared with Council members the parties’ efforts to agreeing such a timeline.

Following these meetings, Council members flew to Nouakchott, in order to meet with Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and the Permanent Secretary of the G5 Sahel, Najim Elhadj Mohamed.

At the meeting at the presidential palace, President Abdel Aziz underscored the magnitude of the terrorist threat in the region and the need to address under-development as a factor in the crisis, along with security-related threats. The president conveyed to Council members the need for additional resources to support the joint force, under an appropriate UN mandate. In the past, he has expressed frustration that resolution 2359, which welcomed the deployment of the force, was not adopted under Chapter VII, linking this decision with the lack of resources accorded to the force. The 16 October report of the Secretary-General addresses this misconception, recalling that “any mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter would not trigger per se funding through assessed contributions”. Mauritania has so far failed to identify the battalions it will deploy to the force, as well as the staff officers that will serve at the force’s central command in Sévaré, Mali.

The Permanent Secretary of the G5 Sahel, Najim Elhadj Mohamed, also raised the importance of addressing development issues and not focusing only on military solutions. In this regard, he briefed Council members on the regional development strategy adopted by the G5 Sahel that complements the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel. While he acknowledged the important synergies with the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (which recently opened a liaison bureau with the G5 Sahel in Nouakchott), he argued that the UN strategy lacks focus on infrastructure and energy projects that are vital to the development of states in the Sahel.

Mohamed discussed the expectation of the G5 Sahel states regarding the donor conference to support the joint force that is scheduled for 14 December in Brussels. In particular, he raised the importance of coordination among bilateral donors in order to ensure the coherence of their support, including through the provision of standardised equipment and adequate maintenance.

Upon returning to Bamako from Nouakchott in the evening, Council members participated in the laying of wreaths at MINUSMA’s main operational base in memory of the 146 MINUSMA peacekeepers who have fallen in the line of duty since 2013.