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Army celebrates International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers

British service personnel continue to represent the country on the world stage through various United Nations (UN) deployments, as they have done so for decades, with the International Day due to be marked on 29 May 22.

The distinctive sight of the blue headdress of UN Peacekeepers, drawn from nations across the planet, has become common to many due to the extensive media coverage of the operations they have embarked on.

But this was not always the case - between 1948-1988, the UN deployed peacekeepers on just 13 occasions; however, in the following five years, they were called upon a further 20 times.

The collapse of the Soviet Union dramatically altered the political and security landscape of Europe and beyond, which caused an array of conflicts to break out almost immediately.

A sudden lack of a significant peer adversary for the Western powers, coupled with the potential for humanitarian issues to spill across borders, made the use of UN peacekeepers a much more palatable prospect.

The UK took a leading role in this wave of humanitarianism, having both a highly capable, trusted military and a seat on the prestigious Security Council.

In probably the most recognisable of these new missions, thousands of British peacekeepers deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992, under Operation Grapple, to ensure the country was stable enough for peace talks to take place between warring parties.

A small detachment of soldiers remained, with authority long since transferred to the European Union, in the Western Balkans state until as recently as 2020.

The UK's most significant contributions to UN peacekeeping today are comprised of Operation Tosca, where 250 troops help patrol the Buffer Zone in Cyprus, and Operation Newcombe, which sees a similar number of personnel collect intelligence on long-range patrols in Mali. 

At the time of writing, 21 Engineer Regiment and elements of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia) are deployed in Cyprus while the Royal Irish Regiment and Queen's Dragoon Guards make up the British presence in Mali.

Lieutenant Colonel Bishop, Commanding Officer (CO) of 21 Engineer Regiment, said: "Peacekeeping poses some unique challenges that I have not experienced elsewhere in my career.

"The soldiers understand the importance of this mission and are eager to put the British Army's world-leading training to good effect. My Royal Monmouthshire Reservists are now indistinguishable from my regulars; indeed, they bring skills and outlooks that can make contributions to our peacekeeping mission."

Other recent examples of support to UN missions include deployments to Somalia and South Sudan.