France’s foreign minister is confident the United States will not seek cuts to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, adding Paris was ready to study its efficiency as Washington reviews its overall UN strategy.
Former colonial power France intervened in 2013 to drive out al Qaeda-linked militants who seized northern Mali the year before. It has since deployed some 4,000 soldiers, known as the Barkhane force, across the region to hunt down Islamists.
That operation paved the way for the UN to deploy its more than 10,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping force to the West African state at a cost of about $1 billion a year.
A surge in violence from Islamist militants, difficulties in implementing a peace deal between the government and northern rebels and the mission’s lack of equipment and manpower raised eyebrows at a time when Washington wants to review its funding to the UN.
“It doesn’t mean that just because you are looking to make savings you abandon these peacekeeping missions,” Jean-Marc Ayrault told Reuters ahead of visiting French troops in the central Malian city of Gao.
The United States is the largest contributor to the United Nations, paying 22% of the $5.4 billion core UN budget and 28% of the $7.9 billion UN peacekeeping budget. These are assessed contributions – agreed by the UN General Assembly – and not voluntary payments.
“As far as Mali is concerned … it’s clear it’s an indispensable mission,” Ayrault said. “Everyone recognises that France took the lead on this and the peacekeeping operation would not have happened without us, so I’m not pessimistic.”
He said Paris would look objectively on how to improve things ahead of the mission renewal on June 30, but as a whole Washington should think twice before dropping missions in high-risk areas.
Speaking at a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday, US Ambassador Nikki Haley criticised the mission saying progress in stabilising the country was stalled, equipment did not meet standards and countries were too slow in committing troops.
“This is a dangerous situation. But if we act urgently, there is hope. We can – and must – do better,” she said, adding Washington would be “taking a careful look at the force’s mandated tasks and the distribution of its forces.”
Ayrault, whose trip to Mali comes after a French soldier was killed in clashes in the south of the country on Wednesday, will be accompanied by his German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel.
Earlier this year, Germany decided to increase its troop numbers in Mali to about 1,000 as part of MINUSMA and add eight attack helicopters.
The two ministers, who want to show European Union member states are sharing the burden in overseas operations, are expected to be in Bamako to pressure President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to do more to implement a stuttering peace deal brokered in Algeria.
“It is difficult. The Algiers accords must be implemented and we are encouraging the Malian authorities to do everything they can. It’s all very fragile,” Ayrault said.