Malian Soldiers
Malian soldiers are deployed in an army pickup truck. REUTERS/Joe Penney

The U.N. Security Council has approved the deployment of a peacekeeping force to begin operations in the West African country of Mali on July 1.

The 12,600 members of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, or Minusma, will have to contend with searing temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit in a desert region where militant groups are still active despite the general success of a French intervention in January.

It could take months before the force is fully equipped; U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous noted that Minusma was “still seeking pledges for important outstanding capabilities, including medium utility helicopters, armed helicopters, intelligence, information operations and special forces.”

Insurgent groups took over northern Mali in late 2012. It began with a push from a group of ethnic Tuaregs called the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or MNLA in French, but Islamist groups associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb, or AQIM, eventually usurped the insurgency and instituted a harsh version of Shariah, or Islamic law, over several northern communities including Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.

French troops have driven the insurgents out of most northern towns, but a terrorist threat still remains. Once Minusma is deployed, France will keep at least 1,000 of its own soldiers stationed in the country to ward off continuing threats.

The U.N. peacekeeping force will consist mostly of the African troops already involved in the counterinsurgency, which were first deployed in January as part of a West African bloc called the African-led International Support Mission to Mali, or AFISMA.

The peacekeeping force is expected to help Mali recover from the insurgency and focus on restoring democracy to the country, which suffered a military coup in the capital city of Bamako as the rebels were making gains in the north.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Malian Foreign Minister Tiéman Coulibaly Tuesday to discuss Minusma’s deployment and to commend the transitional government for its attempts to smooth tensions with armed groups in the north. Last week, a ceasefire was agreed upon by Bamako and representatives of the MNLA.

Mali is gearing up for a July 28 election to select a new president, despite that fact that the security situation in the north remains unstable and hundreds of thousands of people are displaced.