Thank you, Under-Secretary-General LaCroix, for your briefing. Thank you also to Foreign Minister Diop for coming here today. Mali’s support for this mission’s objectives is essential. We appreciate your interest in personally sharing the views of your government with us.
Later today, the Security Council will hear a briefing from the Secretary-General on UN peacekeeping. My message will be that we need to give peacekeeping missions mandates that they can actually achieve.
We need to see host governments and peacekeepers working together to make life safer for people on the ground. We need to make sure that we have the backs of peacekeepers when they can’t do their jobs. And we need to make sure missions have benchmarks for accountability.
We’ll have a lot more to say this afternoon about peacekeeping. But the Mali mission is a key example of where the United States believes we need to take a hard look.
This is the world’s most dangerous peacekeeping mission. We are putting troops in harm’s way – asking them to patrol deserts where Al Qaeda thrives. The United States is deeply grateful to the courageous troop contributors, and we condemn in the strongest terms the cowards who continue to threaten them.
But this mission today faces two critical problems. The first is that in far too many parts of Mali, there isn’t a peace for the blue helmets to keep. It has been almost two years since the government and armed groups signed a peace agreement.
The United States welcomes the installation of three of the five interim authorities in Mali’s northern regions. But we still see delay after delay in actually implementing the peace agreement. Government is absent from many parts of the country, providing few services despite the humanitarian needs of Mali’s people. Violence is getting worse. Armed groups are not laying down their arms. Terrorist groups are deepening their cooperation with each other. So we have peacekeepers on the ground to support a peace agreement that isn’t gaining traction.
Second, the mission’s equipment is simply not up to standard. The force has a mandate to make its presence felt to counter the influence of extremists and armed groups. But chronic equipment shortages force these peacekeepers in Mali to curtail their operations.
Consider these examples. Even as the threat from IEDs is growing, the force is operating with just 62 percent of the armored personnel carriers it is supposed to have deployed. Without enough carriers, the peacekeepers can’t patrol much beyond their bases in the places where Mali’s people are most desperate for the UN’s help.
In the second half of 2016, just 10 percent of patrols in the mission’s dangerous western sector were medium or long-range patrols. That means peacekeepers in Mali aren’t able to be present in areas where the extremists thrive.
Or take the mission’s helicopter shortages. Many of the force’s bases are in very remote areas. But without helicopters, peacekeepers in Mali rely on treacherous roads to reach these bases. The lack of helicopters means MEDEVAC response times are far too high when peacekeepers get into trouble.
This is a dangerous situation. But if we act urgently, there is hope. We can – and we must – do better.
We need to start with the political process. That’s why I appreciate the Foreign Minister’s presence here today. The United States knows that Mali’s government can do more to implement the peace agreement. We call on the government to immediately focus on extending the authority of the state, and for all three signatory parties to the accord to live up to their commitments to stop the violence. That will make Mali safer and more stable.
We can also work harder to address the mission’s shortfalls. The resources are out there. While peacekeepers in Mali are desperate for additional armored personnel carriers, peacekeepers in southern Lebanon have many times more than Mali with much less need.
Countries have pledged to give more equipment to Mali’s peacekeepers. The United States urges these countries to follow through as quickly as possible. The mission’s troop contributors also have to live up to their commitments to give their troops the equipment and the training necessary to operate in these tough conditions.
Finally, our conversations in the Security Council about the peacekeeping mission in Mali cannot only be about equipment. The mission’s mandate has to be reasonable and achievable.
That’s why in the coming months the United States will be taking a careful look at the force’s mandated tasks and the distribution of its forces. I am sure that we can agree in this Council that peacekeepers in Mali need to be prepared to succeed. We want a mandate that helps this mission play a more effective role.
Peacekeepers in Mali operate in very challenging circumstances. But their mission is essential. These peacekeepers put their lives on the line every day to help Mali’s people. By working together, this Council, troop contributors, and supporters in the international community can help this peacekeeping operation make real progress toward supporting peace in Mali. We have no time to waste. Thank you.