The UN Security Council has unanimously voted to authorise about 12,600 international troops and police to undertake a peacekeeping mission in Mali.
The UN’s Multi-dimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali, to be known by its French acronym MINUSMA, would have a maximum of 11,200 soldiers and 1,440 police.
The core of the force will come from approximately 6,300 troops from 10 African nations already in Mali.
The UN is aiming for a July start by the new force, but the 15-nation council will decide later whether the conflict has eased enough for the handover.
France will begin a phased withdrawal of its 4,500-strong contingency which will see 1,000 troops left in the country by the end of the year.
The remaining French troops will maintain responsibility for military strikes against those groups who are now waging an armed campaign.
French troops moved into Mali in January to halt an advance on the capital Bamako and have since forced fighters, including ethnic, secularist and other groups who wish to implement Islamic law, into desert and mountain hideouts.
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from the UN, said that all 15 members of the council supported the mission.
He added that while the resolution, called UN resolution 2100, authorises France to intervene if the UN troops are “under imminent and serious threat,” there are still many unanswered questions.
“There’s no indictation of how long the French are going to stay,” Bays said.
“They’ve said that they will have the troops till the end of the year. What happens then and how long will they be prepared to play this role of protector and guarantor for the UN force?”
The resolution also authorises the new force to use “all necessary measures” to stabilise major cities, protect civilians and help the government extend its authority over the vast West African nation.
“The adoption of this resolution confirms the unanimous international support for the stabilisation of Mali and France’s intervention,” said France’s UN envoy Gerard Araud.
Tieman Hubert Coulibaly, Mali’s foreign minister, called the resolution “an important step in the process to stem the activities of terrorist and rebel groups”.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Gao, said the challenge for the UN will be handling the political situation between the Bamako government and the Tuareg and Arab minorities gently.
The UN mission will help to retrain Malian security forces and will also play a key role in political efforts to rebuild the enfeebled state.
A special representative for Mali will also be named to direct the mission.