Steps Toward External Military Intervention in Mali: A Timeline

Yesterday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon formally “recommended that the Security Council approve an African Union peace enforcement mission be deployed to combat Islamist extremists in northern Mali, but did not offer financial support from the world body.” Some observers expect that the Security Council will, as Ban urges, provide a mandate for an intervention in Mali led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Paul Melly is an Associate Fellow with the Africa Programme at Chatham House in London. He says that, because the recovery of territorial integrity is at stake, the UN is expected to hand down a fairly robust mandate, endorsing the ECOWAS intervention.

“The UN mandate will be more one of providing UN support and political authority for this intervention. So it’s not quite like a UN peacekeeping mission with a specific mandate laying down what forces can or cannot do, as you would have, for example, with the MONUSCO force in Congo,” he said.

I imagine we will be discussing and debating the merits and prospects of intervention in the months to come, but in this post I simply want to review the steps that the intervention’s architects have taken in recent months. ECOWAS, of course, has been deeply concerned by the crises in Mali since the conflict in the north began in January, and especially since the March 22 coup in Bamako. But non-African partners, through the spring and summer, expressed some doubts about ECOWAS’ intervention plans. The US and others have worried that the plans lack specificity, both in terms of means and ends. The current process is in large part an effort to address those concerns and secure international support.

Here are some steps taken so far:

  1. On October 12, the UNSC “called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide, at once, military and security planners to [ECOWAS], the African Union (AU) and other partners to help frame a response to a request by Mali’s transitional authorities for such a force, and to report back within 45 days.”
  2. In early November, international military experts met in Bamako to draft a plan to retake northern Mali. They submitted the plan to ECOWAS on November 6.
  3. On November 11, heads of state from ECOWAS approved the plan at a summit in Abuja, Nigeria.
  4. On November 13, the AU approved the plan.
  5. On November 15, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal Poland, and Spain signaled their willingness to provide training for Malian forces. (Statement here, .pdf.)

Events still to come:

  1. On December 7, international envoys will meet in Rome “to coordinate strategy on Mali…focus[ing] on coordinating positions against terrorism, humanitarian issues, encouraging dialogue, and reinforcing political structures so that elections could eventually be held.”
  2. I assume that the ECOWAS/AU plan was formally presented to the UNSC by the deadline of November 26, but I have not seen a date for when the UNSC is expected to make a decision on approving an intervention. From what I have read the decision is expected soon, though.

What do you think will happen? Will the UNSC approve the force? Will external actors insist that Mali hold elections before attempting to reconquer the north? Will this ultimately be settling at the negotiating table – with Ansar al Din, perhaps? Many questions – we’ll see soon how ECOWAS, AU, and the UN attempt to resolve them.

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4 thoughts on “Steps Toward External Military Intervention in Mali: A Timeline

  1. Well the Security Council certainly wants something done. Even the nations that don’t really care about political Islam and North Africa still don’t like the idea of a nation being cut in more than half (and by separatists no less). If anyone actually thinks that elections would result in unity (or even something remotely resembling free elections) they might demand them, but they’ll be hampered by a fear of one, some or all of the actors deciding to destabilize what’s left of Mali.

  2. Pingback: Map of Recent Islamist Coalition Aggressions in Mali | Sahel Blog

  3. Some type of intervention will eventually happen, but not even international actors know when their mission will begin, what size it will assume and how long it will last. The probability of a negotiated settlement is close to zero with Ansar Dine – the group appears to be stalling for AQIM and MUJAO more than anything else. As for the international time-line, the unstable condition of national elections is headed out the window as the Islamists move and organize faster than the international community. Western and African capitals are clearly agitated about being out-paced.

    Now two extremely dangerous situations exist: rushing an under-resourced mission into the unknown and stalling out indefinitely. In any event the situation in and around Mali cannot be restored to its previous state. Mali’s crisis is easily capable of going long-term – and the U.S. wanted to make the 2010s into an African decade, although maybe not like this.

  4. Pingback: In West Africa and Paris, Chad’s President Idriss Deby Calls for Clarity on Military Intervention in Mali | Sahel Blog

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