TSG IntelBrief: UN Mission and ISR Support in Africa: A New Paradigm
December 4, 2013

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On December 3, 2013, UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous supervised the launching of two unmanned surveillance aircraft for peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo

• One month prior, Dutch Defense Minister Hennis-Plasschaert announced that Dutch military personnel would conduct signals and human intelligence collection missions targeting Islamist militants in northern Mali

• The current trend indicates the UN seeks to rely more on its own intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability to at least supplement local and outside support

• The UN Department of Peace Keeping Operations (DPKO)’s goal is improving overall effectiveness in Africa, even if certain UN member states decry drift into non-traditional UN activities and potential breach of host nation sovereignty.

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Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance: New Support For UN Peacekeeping

On December 3, a United Nations spokesman reported that the UN’s peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous had traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) “to preside over the launch of unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicles,” as the latest phase in an ongoing UN peacekeeping mission in the country. Avoiding the term “drones,” Ladsous said he needed the unmanned aircraft to discreetly monitor the border separating DRC from neighboring Rwanda, where rebel militia smuggle weapons into eastern Congo to fight UN-backed government troops. Ladsous has been in charge of an “intervention brigade” of about 3,000 UN peacekeepers operating under a special offensive peacekeeping mandate, and his plans to launch two Italian-made drones to monitor the airspace over eastern Congo is directly pursuant to that mandate. The UN military commander in DRC said that this week the UN will begin using up to five unmanned aircraft, and added that “there will be a 24-hour drone surveillance operation in eastern Congo” by April 2014.

Using UN drones in support of UN peacekeeping operations will likely not be limited to eastern Congo. The Ivory Coast government has expressed interest in having UN surveillance drones monitor its borders. Separately, the commander of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in South Sudan has requested the use of drones in his jurisdiction. Additionally, various reporting has mentioned Mali as a possible candidate for UN aerial surveillance, particularly in the country’s northern region, where separatist rebels and extremists operate with little interference from officials in the distant capital of Bamako. For the time being, however, UN peacekeepers in Mali are preparing to work with their own intelligence support team on the ground.

The UN peacekeeping mission in northern Mali is largely a Dutch affair. Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert indicated that the Dutch military intends to deploy about 400 personnel to Mali’s population centers, Bamako and Gao, in the coming months. The Dutch intelligence unit will conduct signals intelligence and human source operations. In conducting electronic surveillance and recruiting sources with access to actionable information, the goal is to disrupt the activity of Islamic extremists who represent a major threat to local citizens and peacekeepers alike. On October 23, suicide bombers attacked a UN peacekeeping unit in the village of Tessalit, killing two and exposing a deficiency in the UN’s force protection capability in northern Mali.

Although it remains to be seen how adept the Dutch are at conducting signals intelligence collection in remote areas of Mali’s north, as well as conducting human source operations, presumably from scratch, Hennis-Plasschaert confidently asserted that her intelligence operatives “will be the eyes and ears of the UN,” keeping ground troops safe as they conduct their work in northern Mali.

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Anxiety About UN Intelligence Collection

Back in 1960, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld was against the idea of a UN intelligence arm because of concern for sullying the purity of peacekeeping operations. With UN surveillance drones flying over eastern Congo, and Dutch intelligence operatives aiding UN peacekeepers with SIGINT and HUMINT in Mali, the UN is trending toward establishing its own ISR support. However, there is some trepidation among the international community.

Some of the arguments point to US drone operations in countries like Pakistan and Yemen as having irreparably maligned the concept of unmanned aerial vehicles in public debate, and that it would be reckless for the UN to enter the drone business regardless of purpose. It would be inconsistent, in this view, for the UN to issue a scathing report on US drone strikes on one hand, and to use drones—though for surveillance and reconnaissance only—in African peacekeeping missions on the other.

Moreover, some UN member states have expressed anxiety over the UN acting as an intelligence collecting body, since tapping phones and recruiting spies is most often an extremely sensitive sovereignty issue for host nations. In the last few days, Brazil and Germany have lobbied for a UN resolution to limit broad-based electronic collection, using the US NSA as an example, with the implication of linkage to—and a slippery slope for—UN intelligence support activities.

A decade ago, the UN would rely on single-source human intelligence from host nation personnel in places like Sierra Leone and Somalia. That reporting was often insufficient, outdated, or intentionally false, and peacekeeping missions suffered as a result. By taking a more proactive role in its intelligence collection, the UN DPKO looks to gain a level of fidelity on the local situation that will enable it to better protect its personnel and the local population.

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• The UN DPKO will rely on its nascent fleet of Italian-made drones to conduct surveillance operations in eastern Congo, and potentially in Mali, the Ivory Coast, and South Sudan

• UN drones will have some psychological effect on rebels moving weapons from Rwanda to eastern Congo, and limited tactical advantage against targets that move frequently and under the cover of dense forest

• Dutch intelligence collectors in Mali will face immediate challenges establishing SIGINT networks in the country’s remote northern region, and will potentially require lengthy time to recruit dependable sources with access to imminent threat information

• The UN’s emerging priority for member-stated supported ISR capability will remain high.

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• Including the 3,000-troop “intervention brigade,” the 22,000-strong UN mission in DRC, known as MONUSCO (UN Organizations Stabilization Mission in DRC), is the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world

• MONUSCO operates on an annual budget of $1.5 billion

• The MINUSMA effort in Mali (UN Multidemsional Integrated Stablization Mission in Mali) employs 5,200 peacekeepers at the present time, with force inscrease projections up to 12,600

• The upcoming Dutch mission in Mali to support MINUSMA will cost of about $90 million per year

• Dutch personnel in Mali are scheduled to be in place “at least until 2015 and possibly longer,” according to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

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