British Operations in Mali

The little-known operation in Mali, (code-named Newcombe) is probably the most challenging of all the current British Army deployments in 2021.

The war began when I was in Libya after the remnants of Gadhafi’s army arrived in Timbuktoo with a huge quantity of weapons. They were welcomed by the Tuareg tribes of the Azawad (Northern Mali), who promptly rebelled against the central government in Bamako and established a strong liberation army, which was unfortunately linked with terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda in the Maghreb. The international community, led by France, propped up the government and went to war in the desert.

British special forces have operated with the French counter-terrorism forces since 2013, but last year, the National Security Council also agreed to send a task group with the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission, known as MINUSMA. This Long Range Reconnaissance Group, comprising infantry and armoured troops, is based at Gao, which is 250 miles east of Timbuktoo.

Mali is designated as one of the United Nations least developed countries, where poverty is rife and mortality rates are among some of the worst in the world. The people desperately need Aid, but the delivery of medical support, food, supplies and education depends on the security provided by UN peacekeepers.

At this time of the year, the roasting heat of the desert makes for a horrendous environment, but the month-long patrols are only a repeat of what the Long Range Desert Group did in the Libyan desert eighty years ago. It would be good if the British media could find some space in their newspapers to report on the magnificent work of the Royal Anglians and Light Dragoons to bring peace and security to the people of the Sahel.

On Patrol In The Sahara

Respect Our Veterans

On Saturday 8th May, the former Defence Minister, Johnny Mercer is leading a protest march to Westminster on behalf of the elderly veterans, who are under investigation for alleged crimes in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.

Hopefully, by then the trial against the two soldiers charged with shooting an IRA officer responsible for the deaths of 15 British troops, will have collapsed. The Judge in Belfast has already condemned the prosecution’s case against by ruling that the statements given in 1972 are inadmissible and criticizing the lack of new evidence.

We have to remember that 1972 saw the worst levels of violence in Northern Ireland. At 0400 hours on Monday 31 July, the Government launched Operation Motorman against the IRA safe havens in Derry and Belfast. The security forces expected an intense firefight, but the work with local communities and restraint on the part of the soldiers ensured that heavy civilian casualties were avoided. This operation lasted until December that year and was a notable success for not only demonstrating that the rule of law would be applied in all places, but also for catching many of the Provisional IRA commanders. It was also a key turning point in the campaign as the IRA changed their tactics from insurgency to terrorism.

The 200 soldiers sent into the fray by the government 50 years ago, who are now under investigation, were doing their duty to the best of their abilities and deserve our tributes, not our censure.