From Mali to the Golan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, United Nations peacekeeping missions are facing increasing challenges as they operate in some of the most difficult security environments around the world, senior UN military officials told the Security Council today as they weighed field strategy for the world body’s “blue helmets.”
In his opening address to the Council, the UN Military Adviser, Lieutenant General Maqsood Ahmed, remarked that the Organization’s Force Commanders are managing more than 90,000 soldiers in the world’s trouble-spots and suggested that the number of deployed troops is “likely to grow in the coming period.”
“The Force Commanders are operating in failing or failed States, where, frankly, there is no – or hardly – a peace to keep,” Lieutenant General Ahmed stated, noting that the growing Ebola crisis had added yet another dimension of complexity to the UN military presence on the ground in Africa.
Underlining the difficulties and dangers facing the “blue helmets,” he also cited Mali as a case in point, and reminded the Council that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has “suffered maximum casualties” this year.
On 7 October, a number of unidentified assailants launched approximately six mortar rounds at the MINUSMA camp in Kidal, in the country’s northeast, resulting in the death of the Senegalese peacekeeper.
This latest attack came just four days after an ambush killed nine Nigerien MINUSMA peacekeepers in Mali’s Gao region, bringing the total number of fatalities suffered by the UN mission to 31 peacekeepers killed and 91 wounded since it first deployed on 1 July 2013.
In his remarks, Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, the Force Commander of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), told the Council that amid a dynamic and rapidly changing peacekeeping environment, the protection of civilians remained “a moral obligation.”
“I am absolutely convinced that the best way to protect civilians is being pro-active rather than reactive,” he affirmed.
“Only an active force with a proactive, robust posture is able to neutralize and defeat the threats to the civilian population that the UN is mandated to protect. On the other hand, the simple presence of peacekeepers for prolonged periods without action, whilst violence is being committed, leads to a weakening of the reputation of the UN.”
In his message to the Council, Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha, Force Commander of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), noted some of the key challenges facing the Mission in the Golan where, largely due to ongoing fighting in Syria, “an upward spiralling of violence” has seen troops 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 as the conflagration in neighbouring Syria has continued to rage.
He said that in the most recent incident, in August, some 45 Fijian peacekeepers were detained by armed members of the Syrian opposition, and radical forces also surrounded another 72 peacekeepers from the Philippines.
“The process of adapting and carrying out the mandate differently during these trying times was not in a graduated manner, but all concerns were addressed simultaneously, to achieve significant cohesion in moving ahead and continuing to retain our relevance,” Lieutenant General Singha explained.
“We adjusted to the situation very quickly and continue to evolve in the face of dynamically changing threats.”
He noted that while UNDOF was required to reduce its footprint, it continued to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and Syria for which the mission was mandated, occasionally fired back in self-defence when fired upon by radical elements, and remained proactive despite the consistent challenges posed by the security situation in the vicinity.
“UNDOF still skilfully maintains its mandate in a modified manner and has ensured that two traditional adversaries are kept away from a conventional war,” Lieutenant General Singha added.
The meeting was also addressed by Major General Jean Bosco Kazura, Force Commander of MINUSMA.