RAF Chinooks in Mali
RAF

RAF Chinooks Begin Mali Deployment With French Military

French troops have been deployed in West Africa for five years.

RAF Chinooks in Mali

French troops look over to two RAF Chinook helicopters (Image: RAF). 

Three RAF Chinooks have been deployed in Mali to help the French air force in a counter insurgency mission.

France’s deployment in the Sahel region of west Africa began in 2013.

The sparsely populated area just south of the Sahara is a hotspot of Islamic militancy and the Malian government asked France for military assistance.

At the time French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, predicted that Operation Barkhane would last "a matter of weeks".

The British military gave its support to France through Operation Newcombe, an ongoing mission originally announced by then-Prime Minister David Cameron in January 2013 when RAF C17 aircraft transported French armoured vehicles and equipment to Mali.

Five years later, with French troops still deployed in the region, French President Emmanuel Macron requested British reinforcements at a summit with Theresa May at Sandhurst military academy.

The RAF agreed to send three Chinooks along with 50-60 support staff.

So far the Chinooks have made 30 sorties, transporting over 700 French troops, supplies and 70 tons of equipment across the west African nation.

The helicopters have also flown two damaged French vehicles back to base, saving French troops hours of time they would otherwise have spent towing them back.

RAF Chinooks Mali 2
RAF Chinooks transport damaged French vehicles back to base (Image: RAF).

"With the Chinook Mk 5 we can move a huge amount of stores around the area of operations and increase the in-theatre manoeuvrability of the French," commander for the deployed British military personnel in Mali, Wing Commander Matt Roberts noted.

“Working with other countries so closely is fascinating, it gives you the opportunity to look at yourselves from a totally different perspective.

"We have learnt a huge amount from the way they operate and I hope they’d say the same thing about us.”

RAF Chinooks in Mali
The RAF has never before deployed the newest Mk 5 Chinook helicopters (Image: RAF)

The deployment is the first time the RAF has used the newest Mk 5 Chinook helicopters; previous models of the Chinook have been deployed in the Falklands War, Afghanistan, Iraq and in the Caribbean as part of relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.