Danish Major General Michael Lollesgaard was one of three UN commanders to address the council as the United Nations is reviewing the operation of its 16 peacekeeping operations, where over 125 000 troops and civilians are deployed.
Lollesgaard said the Mali force cannot, and has no mandate to conduct offensive operations against constant rebel threats and sporadic attacks. The consequence is that 36 UN soldiers have been killed and over 200 injured since 2013, "by far the UN mission with most fatalities", he said.
Tuareg rebels took over Mali's north in 2012 following a military coup, but al-Qaeda-linked Islamic extremists hijacked the offensive, prompting a French-led military intervention in 2013.
It pushed the extremists from the major cities and towns in the north, but the country has grown increasingly unstable, and the UN troops are struggling to maintain peace.
Lollesgaard said the force is restricted to trying to protect civilians and its own troops, and to help deter attacks. It is also not set up or ready for "an intervention brigade" to carry out "anti-terrorist" operations, he said.
But the general said the force is now effectively gathering intelligence against the extremists, supported for the first time by special operations forces and drones, as well as helicopters. He called the UN decision to accept intelligence gathering as part of its operations "a huge step forward."
He said better trained, equipped and protected troops are also essential "to face hostile armed groups hiding among the population and to face challenging climates, geography and infrastructure".
A high-level panel appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to review the UN peace operations said in a report this week that "extreme caution" must guide any call for thye UN peacekeeping operations to undertake enforcement tasks. It also said the UN should not take part in military counter-terrorism operations.