Deployment of Dutch forces on UN mission to Mali
Good improvisation requires good preparation
Lack of materiel, inadequate training, spare parts that don’t work: the Dutch Minister of Defence can barely prepare and keep units in readiness for deployment in Mali. The Netherlands Court of Audit came to this conclusion following an audit of the deployment of the Dutch army on the UN mission to Mali.
Preparedness overlooked in decisions on participation in peace missions
Decision-making on participation in peace missions takes too little account of the armed forces’ preparedness. Great demands are accordingly made on the defence organisation’s ability to improvise. The armed forces’ can-do attitude is thus a weakness rather than a strength. The Minister of Defence is barely able to establish and keep in readiness the units necessary for deployment on a mission. We drew these conclusions from our audit of the 2017 mission to Mali, in which the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Task Group (LRRPTG) managed to carry out its tasks but had to overcome serious problems in both the preparation phase and during the mission itself. The lack of materiel and the consequences of ad hoc preparation could only be overcome through improvisation. This creates the impression that the defence organisation can carry out feasible and sustainable foreign missions at this scale and under these conditions, whereas this might not actually be true.
A mission such as the one to Mali has ramifications for other units outside the mission. Units or parts of units are often merged to form a task force that is established specifically for a particular mission. The need to provide materiel and manpower during the preparatory phase can create problems for the units providing them. They then need to draw on the resources of other units, creating a vicious circle of diminishing readiness that must be overcome by more ad hoc improvisation. The footprint left by a mission on the rest of the defence organisation, even if the mission is of limited size and duration, is often far greater than the mission’s size might suggest.
Considerably more units are affected by a mission than only the unit deployed on the mission
Why did we audit the mission to Mali?
The Court of Audit found that missions such as the one to Mali have significant consequences for the deployability and readiness of the armed forces. Active and transparent consideration, by both the government and parliament, of the need for missions on the one hand and the armed forces’ capabilities on the other is vital. If necessary, the financial conditions applying to missions must be adapted. The Court therefore concludes that decision-making on participation in peace missions should take more account of the deployability of the armed forces. The Minister of Defence must also ensure that units preparing for a mission have enough appropriate training equipment. The Court also draws attention to the ministry’s goal of having all army units’ preparedness in order again by 2021. The number of missions involving the armed forces represents a real risk to this goal.
What standards and methods did we use to audit the mission to Mali?
Between May 2017 and March 2018 the Court of Audit investigated the preparedness of the units deployed in Mali on the MINUSMA mission. We looked primarily at the preparedness of the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Task Group (LRRPTG) rotations 1, 2 and 3 before and during the Mali mission. The audit covered the period from July 2016 to the end of November 2016 as regards the preparation of the LRRPTG 1 and from December 2016 to the end of October 2017 as regards the time that the three rotations, LRRPTG 1-3, were present in Mali. The audit did not cover the entire period of the LRRPTG 3 rotation in Mali.
The audit of the Mali mission considered the extent to which the defence organisation was able to mobilise the military units necessary to carry out the mission and keep them in readiness. We operationalised the audit question by means of the following subsidiary questions.
1. How has the Ministry of Defence operationalised the agreement made with the United Nations to contribute to MINUSMA in the form of instructions and orders to mobilise units in terms of the units’ materiel readiness (MR), personnel readiness (PR) and training readiness (TR); were the agreements observed in the same way for the initial units as for the subsequent units?
2. Were the units mission ready when deployed? How was this checked? What problems were there in preparing for mission readiness? What action was taken to resolve any problems? Our audit looked in particular at the following equipment used by the LRRPTG:
- Fennek light armoured reconnaissance vehicle;
- open terrain vehicles with four wheel drive;
- night vision equipment;
- communication equipment used in operations.
3. Were spare parts for the mission delivered promptly and correctly? If not, what were the causes and consequences? Were necessary maintenance and repairs performed on time? If not, what were the causes and consequences?
4. What comments can be made regarding the consequences of this specific deployment for the operational readiness of the defence organisation?
The above questions served as a framework to collect the information necessary to carry out the audit.
Our audit tested the practice we observed against the standards set in military doctrine and instructions from the Ministry of Defence for international operations:
- the mission is in a state of readiness as regards personnel and equipment in accordance with the instructions, orders and other requirements and guidelines applicable within the Ministry of Defence, including the orders and requirements set especially for this mission;
- the logistics chain to supply spare parts and the stocks of spare parts in the mission area are designed and function so that materiel readiness is assured;
- if the mission displays shortcomings in the above areas, are timely and appropriate measures taken in the mission area and in the Netherlands to eliminate them? Measures are appropriate if the Ministry of Defence could reasonably have taken them;
- is there a clear assessment, reporting, documentation and feedback structure for the above aspects in place that satisfies the requirements applicable to a professional organisation?