The British force launched the UN Mission-approved “cordon and search” operation in early May in a village close to the border with Niger, after receiving intelligence about violent extremists operating in the area. The extremists had been intimidating local communities, extorting money and assaulting people who refused to comply with their demands, meaning UK forces were able to respond to protect them under the UN’s peacekeeping mandate.
The operation took place in incredibly challenging conditions, including a sandstorm that reduced visibility to 30m, over 50-degree heat and soldiers carrying up to 45kg of equipment.
The force found a hidden cache of terrorist material, including AK47 rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, along with camouflage clothing, radios, mobile phones and hundreds of litres of fuel. The weapons and intelligence were passed to the UN Mine Action Service, UN Police, and Malian authorities.
Lieutenant Colonel Tom Robinson, Commanding Officer of the Light Dragoons, said “This operation is a tangible example of how UK soldiers, as part of the UN Force, are making a real difference to protect the people of Mali who are living in one of the most vulnerable regions in the world. Using intelligence gathered during our patrols, we focussed on where terrorist groups were intimidating local people and were then able to find and seize the weapons and supplies, disrupting their harmful influence on local communities and gathering more information that will help interrupt further extremist activity.”
The 300-strong UK Task Group deployed to Mali in December 2020 to support the UN mission, which is made up of over 13,000 peacekeepers from 56 different countries and works to support peace efforts, encourage security sector reform, protect civilians and promote human rights.
The UK Task Group provides the UN with a highly specialised long-range reconnaissance capability, conducting patrols in remote areas, gathering intelligence and engaging with the local population to help the UN understand and respond to threats and fulfil its mandate to protect civilians. The operation is the first targeted “cordon and search” operation, acting on intelligence proactively gathered, to be carried out by UN forces in Mali.
Swedish Colonel Markus Hook, Commanding Officer of the UN Mission’s Mobile Task Force, of which the UK troops are a part, said “This Cordon and Search Operation was the first of its kind in a long period of time for MINUSMA. It was based on information which suggested that a specific location within a village was being used for weapon storage by non-compliant armed groups which were harassing the local population. The operation was a direct and timely response to intelligence, and it serves as a telling example of how we are proactively fulfilling our mandate to protect civilians.”
The Sahel, an area just south of the Sahara, is one of Africa’s poorest and most fragile regions. It is marked by chronic poverty, instability, high levels of gender inequality, and is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The UK is one of the largest humanitarian donors to the Sahel, giving £14.65 million in humanitarian aid to Mali in 2020.