The UK Government has announced the extension of Royal Air Force (RAF) deployment in Mali in support of the French counter-terrorism operation, Operation Barkhane, in the Sahel region of West Africa.
Currently the RAF has three CH-47 Chinook Helicopters and 100 personnel based in Gao, Mali and they will be continuing to work with the French Armed Forces.
The UK Defence Minister James Heappey, on June 12, joined a remote conference with over 15 Defence Ministers of the Coalition for the Sahel to highlight UK’s growing role in the region and help co-ordinate the international response. The aim of the Coalition, launched by France, is to coordinate international activity in the Sahel and promote long-term stability in the region.
Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said: “West Africa is as important to the United Kingdom as it has ever been and we have many friends and allies in the region who share our desire to promote peace and prosperity. Combating extremism in the Sahel is vital for the security of the wider region and the UK will play it’s part tackling the declining security situation.”
Personnel from RAF Odiham have been deployed in non-combat roles in Mali since 2018, with the aircraft contributing a unique logistical capability to the French-led operation, named Operation Barkhane. The deployment of RAF Chinooks and aircrew allow French troops to cover a much larger field of operations, by moving personnel to the French bases spread across Mali, eliminating the need for dangerous road moves, and helping to move vital support equipment to strategic locations.
Since arriving in Mali the RAF has clocked over 2,000 hours of flying and moved over 13,000 passengers and 1,100 tonnes of equipment. Currently, the Chinooks are being flown by aircrew from 18(B) Squadron and are supported by personnel drawn from across the RAF and British Army. The conditions are often challenging, with over 40 degree heat in the summer months and regular sandstorms.
Alongside international partners, French forces operate across the Sahel to counter the threat from militants linked to groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh. Forces deployed on this mission have had a number of successes and recently killed the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and several other high-profile members of the group.