UNITED NATION, Aug 29: The United Nations is in the throes of what Secretary-General António
Guterres calls an “unprecedented” six-month exit from Mali on orders of the West African nation’s
military junta, which has brought in mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group to help fight an Islamic
The U.N. special envoy for Mali, El-Ghassim Wane, laid out the scale of the operation to the U.N.
Security Council on Monday: All 12,947 U.N. peacekeepers and police must be sent home, their 12
camps and one temporary base handed over to the government, and 1,786 civilian staff terminated
by the Dec. 31 deadline.
Mali’s U.N. Ambassador Issa Konfourou said the government is cooperating with the U.N.
peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA, but it will not extend the deadline.
The United Nations also needs to move out approximately 5,500 sea containers of equipment and
4,000 vehicles that belong to the U.N. and the countries that contributed personnel to MINUSMA,
the fourth largest of the U.N.’s dozen peacekeeping operations, Wane said.
That process has begun but will continue during a “liquidation” period that will begin on Jan. 1, 2024
and last for 18 months, with the U.N. keeping police in the three hubs in the capital, Bamako, Gao
and Timbuktu where the equipment is being gathered.
Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 military coup which was followed by rebels in the north
forming an Islamic State two months later.
The extremist rebels were forced from power in the north with the help of a French-led military
operation, but they moved from the arid north to more populated central Mali in 2015 and remain
In August 2020, Mali’s president was overthrown in a coup that included an army colonel who
carried out a second coup and was sworn in as president in June 2021. He developed ties to Russia’s
military and the Wagner group whose head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was reportedly killed in a plane crash
on a flight from Moscow last week.
The U.N. deployed peacekeepers in 2013 and MINUSMA has become the most dangerous U.N.
mission in the world, with more than 300 personnel killed.
In a 13-page letter to Security Council members circulated Monday, Guterres said “the timeline,
scope and complexity of the mission’s withdrawal are unprecedented.”
He said the landlocked country’s “vast terrain, the hostile operating environment in certain regions
and its climates render the mission’s withdrawal within a six-month time frame extremely
Guterres said the logistics of moving troops and equipment is further constrained by the presence of
“terrorist armed groups” and the recent military takeover of Niger, a key transit country.
U.N. experts said in a report last week that Islamic State extremists have almost doubled the
territory they control in Mali in less than a year, and that their al-Qaida-linked rivals are also
capitalizing on the deadlock and perceived weakness of armed groups that signed a 2015 peace
U.N. envoy Wane told the Security Council that the first phase of the withdrawal focused on closing
the smallest and furthest outposts – Menaka, Ber, Goundam and the temporary base in Ogossagou
— which was completed on Aug. 25.
The withdrawal from Ber took place two days early because of clashes at the camp, and U.N.
convoys leaving the camp were attacked, with no casualties.
Mali’s Konfourou said “armed terrorist groups took hostile action to prevent the Malian security and
armed forces from occupying the camp” at Ber.
France’s deputy U.N. ambassador Nathalie Broadhurst told the council the clashes in Ber occurred
“with the participation of Wagner mercenaries” and were a serious violation of a cease-fire and the
2015 peace agreement.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield also expressed alarm at the resumption of hostilities in
northern Mali, including at Ber.
“Additionally, MINUSMA’s withdrawal limits the ability of the international community to protect
civilians from the predations of Wagner, whose activities contribute to greater insecurity in the
country,” she said.
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky made no mention of Wagner but said, “Russia
will continue to provide Mali and other interested African partners with comprehensive assistance
on a bilateral, equal and mutually respectful basis.”
U.N. envoy Wane said the second and final phase of the troop withdrawal starting Sept.1 “will be
incredibly difficult” because of the long distances that convoys evacuating troops and equipment
need to travel, including through hostile areas — 563 kilometers in the case of the Tessalit camp.
Wane stressed that the withdrawal is taking place as the 2015 peace agreement between the
government, a pro-government militia and a coalition of groups seeking autonomy in Mali’s north is
“That agreement is the cornerstone of Mali’s long-term stabilization,” he said. (AP)