With U.S. Support, El Salvador Steps Up for Peacekeeping Mission in Mali

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An aerial photo of a UN helicopter flying above UN peacekeeping vehicles traveling on a dirt road in Mali.
El Salvador contributes military helicopters and a contingent of ninety peacekeepers to peacekeeping efforts of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

With U.S. Support, El Salvador Steps Up for Peacekeeping Mission in Mali

El Salvador stands as a leader and role model to many other countries seeking to step up to the challenge of international peacekeeping. In 2015, after sending troops to peacekeeping missions with other countries, El Salvador achieved a major peacekeeping milestone in 2015 when it made its first independent contribution to the UN peacekeeping mission to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Each step of the way, the U.S. Department of State’s Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) has supported El Salvador’s efforts by working with the U.S. Department of Defense to deliver training, equipment, and related support.

GPOI, which is managed by the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs in close cooperation with the Department of Defense, works to strengthen international capacity and capabilities to implement United Nations and regional peacekeeping operations. Through GPOI, the United States is currently working with 53 nations, whose contributions make up 67 percent of military forces engaged in UN peacekeeping operations around the world. Since GPOI was created in 2005, the program has provided training, equipment, facilities, and advisory support to partners in building their ability to meet the increasingly complex peacekeeping challenges around the globe. Through GPOI, the United States delivers the tools and training so that partner countries like El Salvador can contribute critical capabilities to international peacekeeping missions, such as engineering, aviation, medical support, logistics, and training to clear improvised explosive devices, all of which are in high demand in UN and regional peace operations.

El Salvador started small, deploying its personnel embedded with other countries in order to gain peacekeeping experience. El Salvador partnered with Spain’s military in Lebanon, and teamed up with Chile for peacekeeping duties in Haiti. Today, El Salvador is a peacekeeping contributor in its own right, and currently has more than 100 peacekeepers deployed to the MINUSMA, a UN peacekeeping mission of 13,000 personnel from over 50 countries established in 2013 to support the political process and to help stabilize Mali. In addition to being among the largest of 16 current international peacekeeping missions, the MINUSMA mission has proven to be one of the most dangerous for UN peacekeepers, with more than 100 peacekeeper fatalities due to both ongoing political instability and the terrorist groups operating in the region. Even with the number of casualties increasing substantially, from 70 killed and 184 injured in 2016 to 141 killed and 309 injured in 2017, peacekeepers from El Salvador and other countries have been undeterred and focused on accomplishing their mission.

Salvadoran Captain Sandra Hernandez flies her MD-500E helicopter over Mali. She is the only female pilot to fly armed helicopters as part of the MINUSMA mission.

El Salvador’s helicopter unit provides a critical force protection role and other significant capabilities to the mission, allowing airlift of supplies and personnel across Mali’s rugged northeastern deserts, as well as provide medical evacuation for the injured. El Salvador’s new airfield support unit, once fully operational, will expand El Salvador’s capabilities, and provide the mission with greater air operations effectiveness.

El Salvador is looking to build on their success, as well as help other countries get into peacekeeping operations as well. In order to improve the training environment for peacekeepers from El Salvador and other Central American countries, the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) through GPOI has invested $4.6 million in renovations at El Salvador’s Peace Operations Training Center (CEOPAZ) located in San Salvador. When completed, these improvements will give El Salvador the capacity to train over 200 peacekeepers at any given time.

Beyond equipment and capability contributions, El Salvador has also distinguished itself as a leader in the deployment of female peacekeepers. Captain Sandra Hernández is the first female helicopter pilot in the El Salvador contingent in MINUSMA. Her fellow peacekeepers have observed the confidence and professionalism she contributes to the mission. In her unit, she is the leader among her crew; at home, she is a role model to young girls who have aspirations to serve as peacekeepers in the future.

El Salvador’s leadership in this area is significant because women are pivotal in ending conflicts and promoting sustainable peace and security. Over the past eight years, GPOI partner countries have increased the number of female military peacekeepers deployed to UN peace operations by 66 percent. The United States recognizes that female peacekeepers can strengthen the effectiveness of peace operations and continues to support the integration of a greater number of female peacekeepers through GPOI programs and funding.

As a country with armed conflict in its own past, El Salvador appreciates the importance of international peacekeeping. Today, El Salvador is doing its part to help other countries around the world get on the path to peace. Peacekeeping missions are a critical tool for promoting reconciliation and post-conflict stabilization in some of the world’s most troubled areas. The United Nations currently deploys nearly 100,000 uniformed peacekeepers to promote peace and security, while protecting civilians in conflict-affected countries.

The United States, through support to peacekeeping operations and capacity building efforts such as GPOI, promotes smart burden sharing that supports the purpose and spirit of UN peacekeeping missions. With its continued commitment to international peace and stability, El Salvador now stands as an example for other countries who wish to contribute to global peace operations.

About the Author: Emily Hample is a student at George Washington University, who serves as an intern in the Office of Congressional and Public Affairs in the Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.