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What's behind the violence in Mali and why does the Government want to send elite Defence Forces members there?

This week, Cabinet approved a proposal to send troops abroad for peacekeeping duties.

The Irish Army’s elite Ranger Wing (file photo)
The Irish Army’s elite Ranger Wing (file photo)

EARLIER THIS WEEK, Cabinet approved a proposal to deploy members of the elite Army Ranger Wing (ARW) to the UN Mission in Mali – also known as MINUSMA.

The decision could see 14 ARW personnel deployed to the west African country this year, the first time the unit has been called into action since being deployed to Chad in 2008.

The decision was made amid heightened tensions in Mali, where dozens of people were killed during a massacre in a village last week, an incident which followed other attacks in recent months.

The massacre resembled tit-for-tat ethnic attacks that have claimed hundreds of lives in the country so far, and a Malian security source said the village at the centre of this week’s incident was “virtually wiped out”.

The Government has expressed concern over the attacks in recent days, and others have questioned whether it’s safe for Irish personnel to be deployed for a mission described as the world’s most dangerous UN Peacekeeping duty.

So what is the situation in Mali and why does the Government want to send the ARW there?

What is MINUSMA?

The UN mission MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali) was established in April 2013, following the country’s violent Tuareg rebellion in 2012.

Despite military help from France and the UN, Mali’s government is struggling to quell violence that began in the north of the country, sparked by radical Islamist and Tuareg groups.

At the time, the Malian Army became ill-equipped to fight insurgents, and factions in the army staged a military coup in March 2012.

A deal between different groups was eventually brokered in Burkina Faso, before the establishment of MINUSMA and the deployment of UN peacekeepers in July 2013.

But violence subsequently spread to central Mali, after a predominantly Fulani jihadist group led by preacher Amadou Koufa emerged in 2015.

THE CANADIAN PRESS 2018-06-26 Canadian troops unload equipment at a UN base in Mali last year, as they prepare to take over from German troops on the UN MINUSMA mission Source: Sean Kilpatrick/PA Images

MINUSMA – made up of the third-largest peacekeeping mission in the world – focuses on restoring security, stabilising the region, protecting civilians, and assisting with the re-establishment of the Malian State’s authority.

However, it has also become the UN’s most dangerous peacekeeping mission: 177 peacekeepers have been killed out of a force of almost 15,000 troops.

At the United Nations Security Council in New York this week, Foreign Minister Tiebile Drame called for an increased presence by MINUSMA “to help protect civilian populations and their property, [and] to end a cycle of violence to enable the return of government and basic social services”.

“This increased presence is the precondition for the success of the political process which we will undertake in the coming days,” he said, without giving details of what that process would entail.

The UN Security Council is still debating whether to renew MINUSMA’s mandate, which expires at the end of this month.

Why is the Army Ranger Wing being deployed to Mali?

This week, Cabinet approved the proposal to deploy the ARW to Mali as part of the MINUSMA mission.

The move has reportedly been under consideration for a number of months, but follows a recent escalation of tensions in the area.

Last week, dozens were killed in a village inhabited by the Dogon community, where farm animals were also slaughtered and homes were burned by suspected terrorists.

In another incident Wednesday, an attack on villages of the Dogon ethnic group in the south of country claimed at least two lives and left several others wounded.

Both attacks came less than three months after nearly 160 members of the Fulani ethnic group were slaughtered by a group identified as Dogon in the village of Ogassogou in central Mali.

The United Nations launched an investigation into the attack at the time.

Maas visits EU training camp in Mali A blasted gate and other debris lie on the EU training camp after Islamist extremists attacked it last year Source: DPA/PA Images

In May, MINUSMA, announced it had recorded “at least 488 deaths” in attacks on Fulanis in the central regions of Mopti and Segou since January 2018.

In response, analysts believe that a slump in public confidence in the government has led to spurring the creation of so-called self-defence groups.

It is against this backdrop that the Government is considering the deployment of troops into the country.

Last Sunday, TheJournal.ie reported that Minister of State Paul Kehoe would bring a proposal to Cabinet to deploy the ARW with the UN peacekeeping force in the country.

The government believes that as a committed supporter of UN action, Ireland should not stand by while worries about security heighten, regardless of the risks involved.

However, a decision on the deployment is subject to the ‘Triple Lock’ system of authorisation.

The means that the Defence Forces cannot be deployed without all of the following:

  • A UN Security Council resolution or UN General Assembly resolution;
  • A formal decision by the government to deploy troops;
  • Approval by the Dáil.

Meanwhile, other peace operations involving Irish troops are also taking place in Mali, specifically, the EU Training Mission (EUTM).

Currently, 20 members of the Defence Forces are deployed to the EUTM, in which Ireland has participated since it was launched in 2013. 

The mission includes nine Irish personnel who occupy staff appointments in the mission headquarters in Bamako, and 11 personnel who are based in the Koulikoro training centre.

What happens next?

Following the Cabinet’s decision, the Dáil will have to approve the proposal in order for troops to be deployed.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Defence told TheJournal.ie that a motion on the deployment of troops to Mali is scheduled to be heard in the Dáil on Tuesday, 18 June.

In another statement earlier this week, the Department also said that it expected that the deployment would happen later this year if the ‘Triple Lock’ conditions are satisfied – that is, if the Dáil passes the motion.

As part of the Government’s proposal, the Department previously carried out a detailed review of the mission, while the Defence Forces also carried out reconnaissance and an assessment of the situation in Mali.

It is understood that the Defence Forces was satisfied that precautions are in place to ensure the safety of Irish troops who may be deployed, but they also acknowledged that no mission is without its dangers.

Army Rangers Exercises Army Ranger Wing members take part in a demonstration in the Curragh Camp in Kildare (file photo) Source: Rollingnews.ie

What has the reaction to the proposal been?

In its statement this week, the Department of Defence told TheJournal.ie that recent events underlined the need for “a strong international presence” in Mali and highlighted the importance of UN peacekeeping work in the country.

Also speaking about the mission this week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the government’s proposal had been “very much welcomed” by the Defence Forces.

“It is a big part of our peacekeeping efforts and our commitment to the UN, but it also will help them to maintain and develop their skills,” Varadkar said.

90430612_90430612 Leo Varadkar speaks with members of the Defence Forces during a jobseekers event in 2016 Source: RollingNews.ie

However, the proposal to deploy troops was opposed by a number of TDs in the Dáil, where some argued that it was “asking a lot” of the Defence Forces to carry out a a high-risk mission at a time when they are calling out for more pay.

There have also been concerns over a risk to Ireland’s reputation of further involvement in Mali.

Earlier this year, independent MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan called on the government to bring home the Irish personnel following the massacre in March. 

He told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that it was time to bring the members of the Defences Forces who had been training the Malian Army back home.

While the proposal may have government support, there is opposition towards the deployment of troops.

All eyes will be on the Dáil vote on Tuesday to see what happens next.

With reporting from - © AFP 2019.

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