Hopes for boost in UK peacekeeping missions as troops deploy to Mali

There are hopes that a £16.5bn increase to the defence budget could boost the UK’s peacekeeping operations, enhancing its presence internationally.

The first of 250 British troops have arrived in Mali, offering up reconnaissance expertise to the UN peacekeeping mission there.

The Government hopes the deployment will demonstrate Britain as being a force for good in the world, amid its push for a ‘Global Britain’ post-Brexit. 

Personnel from the Light Dragoons and 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment are in the West African nation under the MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) mission.

A further 50 will form part of a National Support Element, including administrators and logisticians.

Lieutenant Colonel Tom Robinson, Commanding Officer of the Light Dragoons, said: "We’ve trained hard for the last year to make sure that we are ready for this challenging mission. 

"We’re proud to be the first British soldiers to join in this team effort to help combat instability in the Sahel."

An A400M Atlas aircraft carrying British troops lands in Gao, Mali (Picture: MOD).
An A400M Atlas aircraft carrying British troops lands in Gao, Mali (Picture: MOD).

Mali is a country that has been embattled with violent conflict in recent years.

A number of terrorist organisations including al-Qaeda and splinter groups, JNIM and ISGS, operate in and around the region – putting civilian lives at risk. 

The UK Armed Forces will help provide intelligence to operations in order to help protect innocent members of the public, working out of a base in Gao, in the east of the country. 

Major General Nick Borton, Chief of Staff (Operations) at Permanent Joint Headquarters, said: "Our aim is to help prevent conflict and insecurity spreading and contribute to the mission’s efforts to protect civilians and build sustainable peace.

"Mali is dangerous, but our troops are extremely well-trained and highly capable of operating in these conditions."

Twenty million people in the Sahel region of Africa are believed to be in need of humanitarian assistance, with climate change and a rising population putting pressure on food production and other resources. 

Combined with instability, the risk of conflict is growing. 

The UK chose to volunteer to assist on the mission due to its challenging nature and the ability to have a meaningful impact. 

"We’ll be bringing high-end British expertise to the table," Maj Gen Borton said. 

"The violence that we’re seeing in Mali is obviously costing peoples’ lives currently, it’s hindering development in what is one of the poorest countries in the world and it’s spreading to the wider region."

British soldiers walk off an A400M Atlas aircraft in Gao, Mali, to assist with a UN peacekeeping mission in the country (Picture: MOD).
British soldiers walk off an A400M Atlas aircraft in Gao, Mali, to assist with a UN peacekeeping mission in the country (Picture: MOD).

The 250 British troops embarking on the peacekeeping mission will be tasked with providing a greater understanding of the operating environment surrounding Gao.

They’ll join more than 14,000 other uniformed personnel in the country from nations including Germany, Sweden and Bangladesh. 

The deployment is seen as an opportunity for British personnel to explore and test military skills, with new technological equipment being employed. 

As well as a new unmanned aerial vehicle being tested for the first time, ‘Slingshot’ – kit that will give the military access to satellite communications across Mali – will also be used.  

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "As a permanent member of the UN Security Council this deployment is a demonstration of our firm commitment to peacekeeping and the importance we place on improving security in the Sahel by protecting local communities.

"Our land forces are the best in the world, and we are one of a small handful of nations able to provide this specialist capability in a challenging environment which will help prevent the spread of conflict across the region."

British troops have been working alongside African partners on UN training programmes for years.

The Government says the UK is fully committed to these operations, seeing UN peacekeeping as a crucial instrument for containing and reducing conflict.

Alongside the peacekeeping mission in Mali, the UK also has three Chinook helicopters and 100 personnel in a logistics role in the country, supporting the French-led Counter-Terrorist mission, Operation BARKHANE. 

It is separate to the UN mission but operates in the same region. 

Cover image: British troops disembark an aircraft upon arrival in Gao, Mali, to provide expertise to the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (Picture: MOD).