I would like to update the House on my previous statement (HCWS622), announcing the start of the UK’s long-range reconnaissance group (LRRG) deployment to the United Nations multidimensional integrated stabilisation mission in Mali, MINUSMA.
The UK’s first rotation to MINUSMA, led by the Light Dragoons, began in December 2020 and I am pleased to report that they have now completed their handover to their successors, following a successful six-month deployment.
Our troops have so far delivered on their objectives—to contribute to improving the UN mission’s performance and to help reduce the spread of insecurity across Mali and the wider Sahel.
Our forces have engaged with Malian communities who had never before met UN forces to understand their needs and concerns. They have gathered intelligence to support mission planning and improve overall mission performance, including the protection of civilians. They also led MINUSMA’s first cordon and search operation for some time, seizing weapons and equipment hidden by terrorists threatening local communities, and demonstrating how UK personnel can make an innovative and effective contribution to the mission.
Their high performance and professionalism have been acknowledged by international partners on the ground, and the UN Force Commander.
The Light Dragoon-led task group has been replaced by a contingent led by the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, with personnel drawn from The Queen’s Dragoon Guards and other units from across the armed forces.
I congratulate our returning troops on completion of a successful tour in a challenging and dangerous environment, and I am confident that the second rotation is well placed to build on the solid foundations laid by those preceding them. The new UK task group will be under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Will Meddings, of the Royal Anglian Regiment, and will continue to form a crucial component of the mission and force, working alongside over 60 other nations.
Despite the successes of our armed forces, we are conscious that the ongoing situation in Mali remains complex and needs a whole of Government approach to achieve our desired results. The coup in Mali last month reinforces the important role the international community plays in supporting stability in the country. The UK remains committed to the transition process towards democratic, constitutional rule in Mali. We will also maintain a close relationship with our allies, ensuring our activity aligns with planned adjustments to France’s footprint in the Sahel.
Our peacekeeping deployment to Mali is part of a broader HMG contribution seeking to help tackle the root causes of conflict. This includes a number of UK-funded programmes across Mali that intend to not only improve the lives of the civilian population, but also complement the tasks conducted by our armed forces. Programmes include helping communities resolve conflicts over land and resources; supporting women in taking a stronger role in conflict resolution; and helping civilian and military actors to better co-ordinate work.
While I am pleased to report that the troops in our first rotation will arrive home safe and well, we remain clear that this mission does not come without risk to those deployed. We regularly assess risks and will continue to make adjustments to ensure our forces can conduct operations safely.
Lessons identified from our first rotation will be applied to future MINUSMA deployments. We will also continue to draw on insight provided by the LRRG to support our efforts within the UN in New York to drive policy reform. They will feed into a review of our future commitment at the end of the year.
As outlined in the integrated review, the UK deployment to MINUSMA is a clear demonstration of this Government’s commitment to play a leading international role in multilateralism, collective security and conflict resolution. I am pleased to report on the successes of this first rotation, and will provide further updates to the House as the deployment progresses.