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.