The African Union is planning to send a mission to northern Mali in the next few weeks to look into setting up a counter-terrorism force to support vulnerable UN peacekeepers, sources familiar with the matter said.
Mali’s government, as well as some officials of the UN force in the country, MINUSMA, have called for more help in fighting al Qaeda-linked insurgents, who have become increasingly active despite the efforts of French, Malian and UN troops.
French forces drove the jihadists out of northern Malian cities in 2013 but they have regrouped, and in November al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb attacked a luxury hotel in Bamako, killing 20 people in a demonstration of their ability to strike beyond their desert bases.
Critics say the 10,000-strong UN force’s ability to bring peace to Mali is hamstrung by its lack of an aggressive counter-terrorism mandate making it vulnerable to militant attacks.
At least 20 Malian and UN troops from Africa have been killed this year, according to Reuters estimates.
While an expansion of the UN mandate was discussed during a Security Council visit to Mali last week, some permanent members such as France say it is already sufficiently robust, although they back additional resources for the force.