UN peacekeeping commanders on challenges in Africa

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Yet another indication of the changing face of African peacekeeping, peace support and peace-building operations comes from the commanders of three UN missions on the continent.

“As negative forces increasingly resort to the use of more sophisticated military technology to achieve their objectives there is an increased need for peacekeepers to match that capability,” MONUSCO Commander Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz said in a briefing to the UN Security Council this week.
“Greater use of advanced military technology by UN peacekeepers is necessary as much for minimising vulnerabilities as it is for capitalising on opportunities. 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 UN Mission in the DRC is due to receive unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) possibly as early as September to counter imminent threats to the civilian population.

Cameras mounted on the aerial platforms would be used to identify armed groups’ headquarters and logistics hubs and to collect information.

At the same time the three star general said the use of advanced military technology had its own challenges to be overcome. These included more complicated air space management, additional skilled operators and analysts as well as polarising 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 about the need for an in-mission assessment of pre-deployment training of blue helmets heading to the field to ensure each peacekeeper who reports for duty is operationally ready.
“There is a need to assess the contingent’s sustainability procedures and policy to ensure they meet the desired effectiveness and UN standards,” Ngondi said.

He also recommended the establishment of an inspection team to serve as an additional inspection layer assisting 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 co-operation. This translates into more efficient sharing of resources among missions in geographic proximity, particularly during crises, in an economically rigid environment.
“When unforeseen events threaten to destabilise a country, inter-mission co-operation can be an adaptive and effective response to help provide key assets in a timely and efficient manner,” the Major General said.

As an 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 mobilised from UNMIL to UNOCI during Côte d’Ivoire’s 2010 presidential elections and legislative polls in 2011.

Inter-mission co-operation has also proven challenging Asi said, particularly from the point of view of legal and political constraints through to shifting equipment and moving forces across national borders. Restrictive mission mandates preventing the use of UN property or temporary deployment of UN personnel from one mission to another was another area where challenges are encountered.
“There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, each mission being a unique case,” the two star said adding inter-mission co-operation “is becoming increasingly important as a tool to ensure optimal utilisation of limited resources in an environment characterised by the regional nature of conflicts and fiscal considerations.”



Speaking at a press briefing following the Security Council session Major General Delali Johnson Sakyi, Force Commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said there was a need for “adequate helicopters to engage ourselves in delivery on our mandate”.
“Our biggest challenge is mobility. Get there on time or we act too late,” he said in support of the UNMISS mandate to protect civilians against armed groups and build government capacity.