British troops investigate 'loss of innocent lives' in Mali massacre

Last December, British troops joined MINUSMA, the 18,000-strong peacekeeping Mali mission established in 2013.

British troops deployed in Mali under the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali), have assisted with a human rights investigation into a massacre of civilians by violent extremists.

Gunmen attacked a number of villages on 8 August around Outtagouna, close to the Niger and Burkina Faso borders in the south-east of the country, leaving dozens of people dead.

Armed groups aligned to Daesh and al-Qaeda are known to operate in the region.

Hours after the killings, reports of the massacre started to reach the British contingent in Mali (MINUSMA) at their base in Gao, 150km to the north.

Drawn from 2nd Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment and the Queen's Dragoon Guards, the Long Range Reconnaissance Group (LRRG) provides a highly specialised capability to reach remote areas by travelling long distances across difficult terrain.

Watch: The state of play for current and future British deployments revolving around Mali. 

MINUSMA's Force Commander Lieutenant General Dennis Gyllensporre tasked the LRRG to bring forward planned operations and launch immediately to the area in their specially designed off-road desert vehicles, with the 250-strong UK Task Group arriving at the scene less than 36 hours after the attacks.

The troops immediately secured the villages, providing protection from further attack and allowing a special United Nations (UN) Human Rights team to interview locals and collect physical evidence left by the attackers.

Due to their rapid arrival, the LRRG was able to provide critical information to support the UN investigation, which will aim to help bring the perpetrators to justice.

The UK personnel were also able to use their human security training to engage with all sections of the local population to understand the situation and provide reassurance, with female peacekeepers engaging with local women.

Watch: British Troops complete exercise ahead of UN mission in Mali.

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey spoke about the "loss of so many innocent lives" as a "terrible tragedy".

He said: "This horrific event is a sad reminder of why UK troops are deployed to this difficult and dangerous UN peacekeeping mission.

"The UK Task Force's swift reaction assisted the UN Human Rights Officers to collect vital information about the massacre that might one day see violent extremists held accountable for their crimes, while also providing a measure of security to these traumatised communities in the wake of this disaster."

Following the return of the UN investigators, the Task Group continued patrolling the area at night and flew unarmed Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) drones over the villages to deter and guard against any further attacks on civilians.

Watch: Hopes for a boost in UK peacekeeping missions as troops deploy to Mali.

The LRRG has been operational in Mali for nine months, after deploying in December 2020.

The Task Group has pushed out into areas where peacekeepers have not previously had a presence, enabling the UN to protect civilians, gather intelligence and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to remote communities that would previously have been unreachable.

In May 2020, in the first operation of its kind by UN forces in the country, they seized a cache of weapons hidden by suspected Daesh militants who had been threatening local communities.