UK Joint Force Deploys to Mali
British helicopters have arrived in West Africa as the UK’s support to a key French counter-terrorism operation in Mali, codenamed Operation Barkhane, has reached its next phase, according to the Ministry of Defence.
Three Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters from RAF Odiham, supported by around 90 British troops, are now on the ground and ready to begin providing logistical and troop movement support to Britain’s allies.
Named after the crescent-shaped dune found in the Sahara desert, Operation Barkhane is an ongoing French-led anti-insurgent operation in Africa’s Sahel region. From 1 August 2014, France has deployed a 3,000-strong force, headquartered atN’Djamena, the capital of Chad. The operation involves five former French colonies spanning the Sahel region – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – collectively referred to as the “G5 Sahel”.
Last month, the Mali-based al-Qaeda branch, Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin’ (JNIM), claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing and raid on a G5 Sahel military base in Sevare, a town in the Mopti region, and attacks on Malian and MINUSMA soldiers elsewhere in the country. Other insurgent groups involved in the conflict include Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
In a statement, Armed Forces minister Mark Lancaster said that “this deployment demonstrates our shared commitment to tackling terrorism, instability and reducing threats to European security”. He also noted that “the UK and France have a unique security and defence relationship that has lasted for more than a century”.
The Chinooks will provide niche logistical support and will also help improve safety by moving troops by air, rather than ground where they are more vulnerable to attack.
The UK has been a long-standing supporter of UN and EU military operations in Mali and has worked with international partners to prevent extremists from using the ungoverned space in the Sahel to plan and launch attacks on Europe, as well as counter the illegal trade in people, drugs, weapons and wildlife.
This is in addition to existing wider support to Africa including doubling Britain’s UN peacekeeping contribution with additional deployments to South Sudan and Somalia.
This latest operation follows the 2013 mission, codenamed Operation NEWCOMBE, which saw C-17 Globemaster strategic transport aircraft operated by the RAF’s 99 Squadron flying 5,000-mile round-trip missions on a near daily basis, transporting armoured vehicles, freight and personnel in support of the French Operation Serval.
Two days after the announcement by the Prime Minister that the UK would provide logistical support to French military operations in the West African state, 50 tons of military equipment were delivered to the capital Bamako.
Operation NEWCOMBE also involved RAF Sentinel R1 surveillance aircraft and a force of around 40 British Army advisors. The military force was reported by The Guardian to be comprised of special forces and MI6 personnel.
No further details of the British Army deployment have as yet been made public.
Sources: MOD and other sources.
Image: RAF CH-47 Chinooks arrive in Mali with British Army soldiers in support of French Operation Barkhane (Crown Copyright, 2018).