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The UK is sending 250 soldiers to Mali to join the UN peacekeeping mission in 2020. The UN mission has been described as one of the most dangerous in the world: over 200 peacekeepers have been killed since it began in 2013. 

The deployment is in response to increasing insecurity in the wider Sahel region in west Africa. The Government adopted a new strategic approach to Africa in 2018 with a focus on the Sahel. The UK already provides logistical support to a French counter-terrorism operation in Mali and supports the regional G5 Sahel group’s efforts to combat Islamist groups.

The political situation in Mali is fragile and complex following a coup in 2012. Implementation of a 2015 peace agreement remains tentative. Beyond the rise of Islamist and other armed groups, there are also concerns about the impact of climate change, developmental challenges and a worsening humanitarian crisis.

The UK has warned of the “potentially catastrophic impact” of Covid-19 in Mali and the Sahel.

The UK deployment

On 22 July 2019, the Government announced plans to deploy 250 troops to Mali on peacekeeping operations in 2020.

The troops will:

  • Join the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)
  • Conduct long-range reconnaissance
  • Fill a capability gap for the UN mission
  • Troops will rotate every six months and the contribution will be for three years

Timing

The Government has not confirmed the precise timing of the deployment. Jane’s Defence Weekly reported on 27 April 2020 that the deployment has been delayed from summer 2020 as the logistics have not yet been finalised. Jane’s quoted an MoD spokesperson saying “The government is committed to the deployment but it is now expected to happen towards the end of the year”. The report does not say whether the delay is linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Units

The Government has not confirmed the units deploying. However, media have reported the first deployment will come from the Light Dragoons and the Royal Anglian Regiment. The Light Dragoons are a cavalry regiment who specialise in reconnaissance using Jackal 2 fighting vehicles. These vehicles have been upgraded ahead of the deployment. Jane’s Defence Weekly also reports personnel from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards, who similarly specialist in reconnaissance, are expected to deploy in future rotations.

Commentary

A Times editorial said it will be “Britain’s most significant deployment to an active war zone since the end of a mission in Afghanistan five years ago”. The newspaper also reported concerns among senior British personnel about the complexity of the situation in Mali and the number of deaths of French and UN peacekeepers.

MINUSMA has been described as “one of the most dangerous peacekeeping missions in Africa” and has one of the highest fatality rates of the 13 UN peacekeeping missions currently operating around the world.

The UK already provides logistical support to a French counter-terrorism operation in Mali and supports the regional G5 Sahel group’s efforts to combat Islamist groups. The deployment to MINUSMA is separate to this.

The UK Government has raised concerns with the UN Secretary General about the implications of Covid-19 on MINUSMA, both in terms requests for support from the Malian Government in its pandemic response and due to public health restrictions impacting on the day-to-day operation of the mission. As with all UN peacekeeping missions, the rotation of troops has been suspended until 30 June. The UK reaffirmed the deployment of 250 British troops to Mali during discussions on MINUSMA in the Security Council on 7 April 2020.

This briefing paper discusses the British deployment, the UN peacekeeping force and the French military presence in Mali. It examines recent developments in Mali and the wider regional efforts including the G5 Sahel Group and the Sahel Alliance. 


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