The Irish Times view on Irish soldiers in Mali: a war fought in the dark

This is the first time a UN peacekeeping operation has been tasked with helping a state take control over territory held by terrorists

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visiting Irish troops in Mali in January. The troops were there in a non-combat training role, but since September 14 members of the Army Ranger Wing have been active as part of the UN mission in the country. Photograph: Defence Forces

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visiting Irish troops in Mali in January. The troops were there in a non-combat training role, but since September 14 members of the Army Ranger Wing have been active as part of the UN mission in the country. Photograph: Defence Forces

 

The killing of at least 54 Malian soldiers and one civilian near the country’s border with Niger last weekend underlines the acute dangers of a conflict that poses risks far beyond the deserts of the Sahel. It also reinforces the need for greater Government transparency on the activities of Irish soldiers attached to the UN-mandated mission in Mali.

The Government says robust security measures are in place to give the best protection to the Irish soldiers

The crisis has its origins in the events of 2012, when Islamists took advantage of a Tuareg separatist uprising and took over much of remote northern Mali. There they imposed sharia law and threatened to sweep south towards the capital, Bamako. A French military intervention stopped them in their tracks, but the Islamists adapted as an insurgent force. Given northern Mali’s position on a key strategic corridor, the international community is heavily invested in the task of restoring stability. The UN mission, known as Minusma, comprises more than 15,000 personnel and is regarded as the most dangerous UN mission in the world; to date more than 200 of its peacekeepers have been killed by gun attacks, car bombs and improvised explosive devices.

File image of members of the Army Ranger Wing during a training exercise at the Curragh Camp in Co Kildare. Photograph: Alan Betson
Members of the Army Ranger Wing during a training exercise at the Curragh Camp in Co Kildare. File photograph: Alan Betson

Following approval earlier this year, 14 members of the Army Ranger Wing are being sent to join the UN mission, with the first contingent having left Ireland in September. The Government says robust security measures are in place to give the best protection to the Irish soldiers. Moreover, the deployment has satisfied the so-called triple-lock, which requires a UN mandate as well as approval from the Government and the Dáil.

Since the first Irish soldiers departed in September, the provision of information on their activities has been minimal

However, the Government must do more to explain its thinking on the difficult questions the deployment raises. A debate has long raged among security specialists and humanitarians over Minusma, which has more in common with a counter-insurgency war than the ceasefire-monitoring missions Irish troops have traditionally joined. This is the first time a UN peacekeeping operation has been tasked with helping a state take control over territory held by terrorists. Many players, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, have concerns about that. Some believe the offensive nature of the mission makes it “a party to the conflict”, a designation that would have legal implications. No matter how noble the blue helmets’ intentions, many Malians see them as agents of a discredited, corrupt government.

When the Cabinet signed off on the deployment in June, it made almost no public comment on the subject. The subsequent Dáil debate highlighted some of the complexities but left key questions unanswered. Since the first Irish soldiers departed in September, the provision of information on their activities has been minimal. Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe says he receives “regular” updates from the theatre of war. He should share them with the rest of us.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.