20 April 2018
Colonel Angela Fitzsimons, the New Zealand Defence Force officer serving in the West African country of Mali, is no stranger to combat zones.
During her 35-year career in the New Zealand Army she has deployed to Syria, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Bougainville and East Timor.
In March, Colonel Fitzsimons took up the role as Chief Military Intelligence Officer (U2) for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
A former French colony in West Africa, Mali has been in the grip of a security and political crisis since 2012. Mali’s army, with help from the French military and the UN, has been battling Islamic jihadists in the north for almost six years.
“It’s a challenging environment but one I am familiar with and I am prepared for it,” Colonel Fitzsimons said.
In her new role in the peacekeeping mission, Colonel Fitzsimons is leading a team of 65 UN personnel from 31 other countries.
“Our task is to support UN personnel in operations and one way to do that is to have better intelligence,” she said.
“My priority is getting all different nationalities and people with different skills to work together as a team.”
Established in April 2013, the MINUSMA comprises about 15,000 military personnel. Its mandate is to support the political process, protect civilians and help stabilise Mali by paving the way for free and fair elections.
For Colonel Fitzsimons, Mali is familiar territory. In her previous role as Chief of the Assessment Team of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York, she visited the country several times to evaluate MINUSMA’s efforts to refine its intelligence structure.
Colonel Fitzsimons was studying towards a degree in French at Canterbury University when she decided to enlist in the Army in 1983.
“At that time, I had been in the Territorial Forces for about two years and was looking for a summer holiday job. I thought the Army could be a good career and signed up for Officer Cadet training.”
She served with the UN Protection Force in Bosnia in 1995, deployed to Bougainville in 1998 and joined the sixth rotation of the New Zealand battalion to East Timor in 2002.
She was the Deputy Chief Intelligence Officer at the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan in 2006 and was the Chief Military Information Officer of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria in 2012.
She completed the 18-month Staff and Command course in France’s College Interarmees de Defense and has a master’s degree in International Relations from Victoria University.
“Throughout my career, I never wanted to be appointed as a woman but as the right person for the job,” she said.