British Troops In Cyprus Prepare For UN's Most Dangerous Operation

1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards are preparing for UN peacekeeping duties in Mali later this year by training in Cyprus.

Troops from 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards have been training in Cyprus ahead of deploying to Mali later this year, on the most dangerous United Nations (UN) operation in the world.

The west African country has been on the brink of chaos, having seen a coup that overthrew both its president and prime minister, ongoing struggles against Islamic extremism and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The soldiers have been preparing for the deployment during Exercise Gao Eagle.

Major James Curry, Officer Commanding, A Squadron, 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards, told Forces News it is "very clear" what the British personnel are in Mali for.

"We're not there to bring about substantial change, we're there for peacekeeping, to support the locals."

Maj Curry said the troops' role of understanding the "different frictions that appear across the country... is going to be very tricky".

"Generally, what we are trying to do is set the conditions for a safe and stable environment," he said.

Specialising in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for 7th Infantry Brigade, the soldiers will join 12,000 UN peacekeepers trying to stabilise the country and protect civilians by the end of the year.

British troops are in the country under the MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) mission.

The UN operation began in 2013 after terrorist groups took control of major towns in northern Mali the year before.

Soldiers from 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards will join 12,000 UN peacekeepers on the mission in Mali by the end of the year.

Since then, the mission has suffered 231 fatalities, of which 134 were a result of malicious acts, and 358 personnel have sustained serious injuries.

Sergeant James Hatton, A Squadron, 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards, who has previously served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, said he felt "confident" but "apprehensive" about the deployment ahead.

He described Cyprus as the "perfect environment" to prepare for the mission, saying: "Everything's sharp, it's hot, it's frustrating, there's a lot of rage and temper, but it's good for the firefight.

"There [are] genuine nerves but excitement at the same time," he said. 

"It's nice to have a squadron that you can feel comfortable going on a deployment with because the generations since the Afghan era… there is a lot of inexperience but this is something that allows the experience to go up."

2nd Lieutenant Edward Carter, A Squadron, 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards, who commissioned out of Sandhurst last year, told Forces News the training was "really important" for troop leaders.

"Due to doing the COVID testing and things, we haven't really had much facetime with our troops as such," he said.

"So it's a brilliant opportunity for us to get to know them, learn their strengths and weaknesses, where best to employ them within the troop themselves and get the best effect out of the soldiers."

British troops started joining the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali in December (Picture: MOD).

The training for Mali continues at pace, with the soldiers soon set to head to the US for Exercise Rattlesnake – the US Army's second-largest exercise of the year.

In January, four UN peacekeepers were killed and five others were wounded after their convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) in the Timbuktu region. 

British troops began joining the peacekeeping mission in the country in December.

It was announced earlier this month that the soldiers were ready to start "operations directly contributing" to the mission.

About 250 British soldiers are deployed to Mali.

The RAF has three Chinooks and 100 personnel in the country, supporting the separate French-led counter-insurgency mission, Operation Barkhane.