Military leaders from three United Nations peacekeeping missions in Africa today told the Security Council what they need to support the “blue helmets” under their command and help them better assist local authorities and protect the people of the countries in which they serve.
As negative forces are increasingly resorting to the use of more sophisticated military technology to achieve their objectives, there is an increased need for peacekeepers to match that capability, said Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, Force Commander of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).
“Greater use of advanced military technology by UN peacekeepers is necessary as much for minimizing the vulnerabilities as it is for capitalizing on the opportunities,” Lt. Gen. dos Santos Cruz told Council members. “This is an area that needs to be continually monitored if UN peacekeeping is to avoid being outpaced and its effectiveness diluted.”
The topic is particularly relevant to MONUSCO as the Mission is due to receive unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) possibly in September, the Lieutenant General said, to counter imminent threats to the civilian population. These large cameras would be used to identify armed groups' Headquarters and logistics hubs, and to collect information about the groups.
At the same time, the use of such advanced military technology has its own challenges that must be overcome, he said, including more complicated air space management, additional skilled operators and analysts, and polarizing popular opinion.
Also briefing the 15-member Security Council was Major General Leonard Ngondi, Force Commander of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), who spoke on the need for an in-mission assessment of pre-deployment training of blue helmets heading to the field so that each peacekeeper who reports for duty is operationally ready.
“There is need therefore to assess the contingents' sustainability procedures and policy to ensure they meet the desired effectiveness and UN standards,” Maj. Gen. Ngondi said.
He also “strongly recommended” the establishment of an inspection team to serve as an additional layer of inspection and to assist the Force leadership in sustaining mission-capable troops.
The Security Council also heard from Major General Muhammad Iqbal Asi, Force Commander of the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) who urged stronger and more expanded inter-mission cooperation, which translates in simple terms as more efficient sharing of resources among missions in geographic proximity, particularly during crises, in an economically rigid environment.
“When unforeseen events threaten to destabilize a country, intermission cooperation can be an adaptive and effective response that can help provide key assets in a timely and efficient manner,” the Major General said.
For example, the neighbouring UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) temporarily shifted three infantry companies to UNOCI to protect the capital Abidjan in late 2010, while three armed and two military utility helicopters were temporarily mobilized from UNMIL to UNOCI during Côte d'Ivoire's 2010 presidential elections and legislative polls in 2011.
Inter-mission cooperation has also proven challenging, Maj. Gen. Asi said, particularly from legal and political constraints to shifting equipment and moving forces across national borders, as well as restrictive mission mandates that prevent use of UN property or temporary deployment of UN personnel from one mission to another.
“There is no 'one size fits all' solution, each mission being a unique case,” the Major General said, but inter-mission cooperation “is becoming increasingly important as a tool to ensure optimal utilization of limited resources in an environment characterized by regional nature of conflicts and fiscal considerations.”
Among other participants to today's Security Council meeting was Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, who introduced the three military officials.
The force commanders are in New York on an annual one-week meeting aimed at sharing ideas about their common goals of supporting peace efforts in their countries of work, and challenges on how to tackle common problems.
“We are sharing some information and some good practices that we are dealing with and also collecting some more information from the leadership here in New York,” Colonel João Manuel Da Cunha Porto, from the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) told UN Radio.
Addressing journalists later in the day, Major Iqbal Singh Singha, Force Commander of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) noted some of key challenges facing the Mission in the Golan Heights where troops have come under fire, been abducted, hijacked, had weapons snatched and offices vandalized. In addition, troop contributing countries, such as Austria, have pulled out their forces.
Major Singha said the Mission has now taken a series of mitigating efforts, which include reducing its operational footprint and temporarily halting night patrols.
“We have continued to evolve and the mission continues to carry out its mandate in a modified manner,” he said, adding that the UN Headquarters in New York is “doing everything possible” to keep the Mission operational and its peackeepers safe.
Sharing the podium at the press conference, Major General Delali Johnson Sakyi, Force Commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) launched his own “call to action for adequate helicopters to engage ourselves and in the delivery of our mandate” which focuses on protection of civilians against armed groups and to build the capacity of the Government, who carry the primary role for protection of its citizens.
“Our biggest challenge is mobility,” the Major General said. “Get there on time or we act too late.”
Journalists also heard from the Major General Paolo Serra, Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), along with Lt. Gen. dos Santos Cruz.