UN Ends Peacekeeping Mission in Mali With Wagner Group Set to Fill Void
The UN Security Council voted to end a 13,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Mali, leaving the poorly equipped army and a smaller force of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries to contend with militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The decision leaves the army and about 1,500 Wagner troops to contend with militants, who occupied some parts of the country in 2012 and were later dislodged by French troops, but have since regained a foothold. More than 170 peacekeepers have died, making it the UN’s deadliest active peacekeeping mission.
“The UN didn’t always manage to do what it came here to do — that is protecting civilians,” said Attaye Ag Mohamed, a member of la Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad, one of the signatories of a 2015 peace accord between northern separatist groups and the government. “But at least it prevented an already bad situation from getting worse.”
It’s not clear how Mali plans to fill the void left by the UN troops. But it will provide an opportunity for Wagner, whose chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, led an unsuccessful revolt against Russia’s military leadership. Prigozhin agreed to leave Russia for Belarus and Wagner’s fate is unclear, but earlier Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said African nations where Wagner operates should decide for themselves whether to continue cooperation.
John Lechner, an independent researcher currently writing a book on Wagner, said it was too soon to say if the group would expand operations, in part because the Malian government “is perhaps more concerned in the short term with political legitimacy than with territorial control.”
“The UN has a responsibility to minimize the risk that its assets fall into the hands of those looking to destabilize Mali or bring harm to its people, including violent extremist organizations and the Wagner Group,” a representative for US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after the vote.