A force of African soldiers that helped France take back northern Mali has now officially been transformed into a United Nations peacekeeping mission.

The roughly 6,000 African troops from countries bordering Mali will be folded into the Integrated United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Mali, or MINUSMA, which is expected to grow to more than 12,000 soldiers.

Pierre Buyoya, the head of the former African force, said at a ceremony in Bamako on Monday that they are passing the baton to the U.N., having liberated much of the north of Mali, including the cities of Gao and Timbuktu.

The head of the peacekeeping force, Bert Koenders, said the mission's goals are to stabilize Mali, protect human rights and preserve cultural sites.