British peacekeeping troops in Mali
British peacekeeping troops in Mali (Picture: MOD).

UK to withdraw peacekeeping troops from Mali

British peacekeeping troops in Mali
British peacekeeping troops in Mali (Picture: MOD).

Britain is to withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Mali, the Government has announced, citing concerns over the Malian government's links to Russian mercenary organisation, the Wagner Group.

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said the 300-strong UK contingent with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the West African state is to end its three-year deployment early.

Mr Heappey also confirmed the separate deployment of RAF Chinooks to the country in support of France's Operation Barkhane was "indeed already drawn down".

The UK has completed four out of six promised peacekeeping troop rotations in Mali - the fifth rotation will be a logistics operation to draw down the mission.

File photo of British troops in Mali on UN peacekeeping mission
James Heappey said the Army will be "issuing orders imminently to reconfigure the next deployment to draw down our presence" in Mali (Picture: MOD).

The move comes after President Emmanuel Macron announced in February that French-led forces fighting jihadists in the region would be relocating from Mali to Niger.

The decisions reflect growing concern in Western capitals that the military junta in Mali has increasingly aligned itself with the notorious Wagner Group.

In a Commons statement, Mr Heappey said: "Responsibility for all of this sits in Bamako. Two coups in three years have undermined international efforts to advance peace.

"The Wagner Group is linked to mass human rights abuses and the Malian government’s partnership with the Wagner Group is counterproductive to lasting stability and security in their region.

"This Government cannot deploy our nation's military to provide security when the host country’s government is not willing to work with us to deliver lasting stability and security."

He added the Malian government "began working with the Russian mercenary group Wagner and actively sought to interfere with the work of both the French-led and UN missions".

Watch: Inside the shady world of the mercenary Wagner Group with ties to Putin.

Since 2020, British forces have been deploying in a Long Range Reconnaissance Group as part of the UN's MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) mission - known as the UN's most dangerous operation in the world.

Mr Heappey praised the work of British troops in Mali as "outstanding" and said they should be "proud of what they've achieved".

He added: "But through the Chilcott Report and our wider experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, we – like so many allies – are clear that the military instrument should not be deployed on counterinsurgency or countering violent extremism missions unless there is a clear and compelling commitment towards political progress."

The military government in Mali has looked to the Wagner Group to bring order to the country but their involvement has been marked by allegations of atrocities.

Mr Heappey said the UK is working on a pilot with the UN to be delivered through the British peace support team in Nairobi to develop the capacity of UN troop contributory nations across Africa.

The Chief of the Defence staff speaks to peacekeepers in Mali earlier this year
The UK's Chief of the Defence staff speaks to peacekeepers in Mali earlier this year (Picture: Admiral Sir Tony Radakin/Twitter).

Labour said the Government must set out its plans for future peacekeeping efforts in the region around Mali alongside other countries.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey questioned why the UK had taken "so long" to reach the decision to withdraw.

"Fully nine months after France, eight months after Sweden, why has it taken Britain so long to make the same decision? We need strategic planning and foresight from ministers for this region, not the tactical silence while they work out what on earth to do."

However, Mr Heappey said withdrawing from Mali any sooner would have been a "kneejerk" response.

The minister said the UK would continue to work with France and other allies to "rebalance" the UK’s deployment in West Africa.

He said that he would be joining a regional conference next week in the Ghanaian capital Accra to co-ordinate a renewed response to security in the region where there has been rising Islamist activity.