The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali is "unsustainable" without more personnel, according to a draft UN report obtained by AFP, which suggests a possible withdrawal of troops if key conditions are not met.
The mission, known by its acronym Minusma, was created in 2013 to help stabilise a state threatened with collapse under a jihadist onslaught — but the security situation in the country has continued to worsen.
"The current situation is unsustainable," writes Guterres in the document submitted to the UN Security Council.
"Minusma is a peacekeeping operation where there is no peace to keep."
The mission has come under increased pressure since France, which had been a major military presence in Mali for nine years, pulled its last troops out of the country last August.
‘Overstretched the Mission’
In addition, the expansion of Minusma's mandate in 2019 to include Mali's central regions without adding additional resources has "overstretched the Mission," the report, commissioned by the Security Council last year, says.
"Not in a position to fully implement its mandate, it has been the object of increasing criticism from Malian authorities and the population," it adds.
Guterres proposes three options to remedy the situation.
The first would be to give Minusma "full capacity" to carry out its mandate "in its entirety across all areas of its deployment" by increasing its military and police personnel by 3,680 -- or by 2,000 under a more modest plan.
As of mid-December, the mission had 12,388 military personnel (compared to 13,289 authorised under its UN mandate) and 1,598 police (compared to 1,920 authorised).
A second option would be to maintain "focus on the strategic priorities with a consolidated footprint," and the third would be a full "withdrawal of uniformed units."
For the first option to be fulfilled, Guterres says that "key parameters" must first be met.
Those include progress in the country's political transition to civilian rule, which under the current timetable would occur by March 2024, as well as freedom of movement guarantees for Minusma peacekeepers.
Withdrawal from Minusma
Another issue will likely be finding additional troops to serve, as several contributing countries — with a combined total of 2,250 peacekeepers — have announced their withdrawal from Minusma.
The mission has registered 165 deaths since 2013.
If those parameters are not met, "consideration should be given to its transition into a special political mission," with a presence only in Bamako, the report says.
Guterres stresses that "the overall objective of the UN presence in Mali remains as relevant today as it was a decade ago."
‘Enormous protection needs’
"If anything, it has been made more compelling by the enormous protection needs of countless civilians, the support requirements for the ongoing political processes, and the centrality of Mali's trajectory to the stabilisation of the larger Sahel region," he adds.
Most member states and other partners consulted for the report insisted that "withdrawal would be very detrimental to Mali and regional security," Guterres said, noting worries over the "existential threat" posed by terrorist groups beyond West Africa.