From Salisbury Plain to the deserts of Mali

British troops recently took part in a 14-day long exercise in the South-West as they prepare for their deployment to the United Nations mission in the gruelling deserts in West Africa

In the distance, a convoy of British troops in armoured vehicles snake their way through the barren 300 square-mile plain. They stop and search obstacles, slowly but meticulously they make their way onto their objective.

The heat on Salisbury was blistering, but nothing compared to what these men and women will experience in Mali. As the patrol makes their way deeper into the rural countryside the soldiers from The Light Dragoons and 2 Royal Anglian are faced with a variety of life-like scenarios, testing their ability to deal with challenges they will likely face in Mali.

These scenes this July form part of months of preparations where the soldiers are honing their skills before deploying to support the United Nations Peacekeeping Operation known as MINUSMA.

British troops will not be there to take the fight to the extremist enemy in West Africa; moreover the soldiers will conduct patrols in their Jackal and Foxhound armoured vehicles, gathering intelligence that will help the UN mission protect lives and bring Mali towards peace and stability. But if required, the Task Group are well experienced and equipped to react to threats and defend themselves.

Commanding Officer of the Light Dragoons, Colonel Robinson
Commanding Officer of The Light Dragoons, Lieutenant Colonel Robinson

“This exercise is part of an intensive training package. Over recent months we have been honing our specialist skills and now we have brought all aspects of the Task Group together to operate as a highly professional and effective peacekeeping force.”

—Commanding Officer of The Light Dragoons, Lieutenant Colonel Robinson

Major Johnny Black engaging with a local leader (simulated scenario using actors).
Major Black engaging with a local leader (simulated scenario using actors).

The soon-to-be UN Peacekeepers were put through their paces at engaging with locals and navigating the cultural challenges that they may face in-country. Running into disgruntled locals while on patrols, meeting with village leaders to understand the situation and gather information, they even dealt with a ‘shoot and scoot’ from a mock-insurgent which saw medics springing into action to deal with simulated casualties. With the efficiency and professionalism that these future peacekeepers dealt with the incoming challenges, you would never think that this was the first time that the Task Group has come together.

A patrol run into disgruntled locals (simulated scenario using actors).
A patrol runs into disgruntled locals (simulated scenario using actors).

It’s easy to make a comparison between this upcoming tour and the UK’s deployment to Afghanistan more than a decade ago but this is a new force with a very different mission. These infantry and cavalry troops will be deploying as a Long-Range Reconnaissance Task Group, which will see self-sufficient patrols immersed in the arid West African bush for anything up to 30 days. These are non-combat, peacekeeping troops, which means as part of the UN mission, their prime responsibility is to protect civilians.

Troops identify the target right after a ‘scoot and shoot’ training serial (simulated).
Troops identify the enemy moments after a ‘shoot and scoot’ training serial.

It was clear that the design of this force structure was unique, carrying everything they needed to survive with them over potentially hundreds of miles required careful planning and training.

What sets this group apart from other deployments is their ability to transport a field hospital with them while on the move, which if needed, can spring up a fully functioning operating theatre within an hour. Meaning that life-saving medical care can be delivered at pace, when and where it is required.

Medics from The Royal Army Medical Corps prepare to receive simulated casualties at their pop-up field hospital on Salisbury Plain.

While on ‘The Plain’, Army medics demonstrated the speed and efficiency in which they can spring into action — transforming what looked like a small barn into a working surgical tent in under 45 minutes while still being able to treat patients. In this scenario local civilians had been injured in an IED blast, this was a key demonstration of how this Task Group can directly save lives in Mali.

The task force stop to check for IEDs on a patrol.
The task force stop to check for IEDs on a patrol.

Marked by chronic poverty, instability and high levels of gender inequality, the Sahel remains one of Africa’s most fragile regions. The UK contribution to this UN Mission will help towards making this region of the world a safer and more stable place.

We are bringing top-class British expertise to the areas of greatest need in UN peacekeeping missions.

A soldier from The Royal Anglian Regiment provides force protection for a Chinook helicopter as civilian casualties are evacuated from the exercise.

Find out where else the UK Armed Forces are deployed here 👇

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