Operation Barkhane and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) – ‘Global Britain’ A Genuine Strategic Aim?
In 2018 Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) undertook to support French Forces in Mali on Operation Barkhane by placing 3 RAF Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and circa 100 RAF personnel under French command. In December 2020 HMG then committed 300 British soldiers (Light Dragoon and Royal Anglian Regiments) to the region as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The latter to provide the UN Commander with a long-range reconnaissance capability.
The French Op Barkhane and UN MINUSMA operations are not mutually supporting as far as air is concerned.
Therefore, until recently helicopter casualty evacuation for MINUSMA was provided by other UN participating nations – Canadian and latterly Romanian Forces. However, this helicopter casualty evacuation capability has now been withdrawn and the UN does not, it appears, have another participating nation currently offering to fill the gap.
For personnel/medical safety reasons a lack of helicopter evacuation and recovery capability restricts the British reconnaissance force to a 50km radius of the main operating base. MOD is reluctant to send more helicopter cover for alleged financial reasons but is considering transferring the RAF Chinook support from the French to the UN mission.
This situation may be unwelcome to the MOD but, with appropriate planning and liaison, it was foreseeable. Further failure by HMG/MOD to finance extra casualty evacuation helicopter capability leading to letting our French allies down will be irresponsible and another blow to the prestige and credibility of HM Armed Forces.
Such a crass move would put the lie to the concept of ‘Global Britain’ as a strategic aim.
The answer is simple. HMG and MOD must stop trying to conduct Foreign Policy on the cheap! The lives of our servicemen must come first – a few extra helicopters and less than 100 RAF personnel is a small price to ensure that our troops serving in a conflict zone have the right support; that our allies know that they can trust us; that the British reconnaissance troops can provide the professional capability the UN Commander of MINUSMA thought was being offered.