Operation NEWCOMBE Explained: Peacekeeping in Mali

300 UN Peacekeepers, three mighty Chinooks and two different operations make up the UK Armed Forces’ contribution towards peace in Mali

Most have heard of Timbuktu but may not be aware that the ancient city is in the centre of Mali, where terrorist violence is sharply on the rise.

The situation in Mali is complex. In 2012 an armed conflict broke out when rebel forces consisting of Al-Qaeda-linked affiliates attempted to form a new state in the north of the country.

As a result, France launched military operations in 2013 to restore peace and stability. The UK Armed Forces have contributed to security operations there since.

This activity involves providing logistical support to the French counter-terror operation but fast-forward to 2020 and the codename encompasses two complementary operations.

Here’s what you need to know:

Operation NEWCOMBE (CH47)

Logistical heavy air-lift support to French counter-terror operations.

Pictured is Royal Air Force Chinooks (CH-47) helicopters providing logistical support to French counter-terror operations in Mali.

How it started:

The UK authorised Operation NEWCOMBE in 2013, the name given to military operations in Mali.

Initially, the operation took the form of logistical support to French combat forces, provided by the Royal Air Force’s Air Movements squadrons. This would see C-17 Globemasters transport French armoured vehicles and troops into the conflict.

In 2018, the Royal Air Force deployed three Chinook (CH-47) helicopters to support French operations there.

How it’s going:

In 2020, after two years of providing heavy-lift logistical support to the French operation, the Chinooks and their crew have completed more than 2,000 flying hours, moved over 1,000 tons of equipment and over 12,000 passengers.

One four-month tour (2020) saw the Chinook crews involved in intense operations. During one phase a Chinook flew through the night alongside French Caiman helicopters to insert over 130 French troops to conduct a clearance patrol.

After 36 hours on the ground, the French troops were recovered back to Gao, the Chinook’s main operating base.

Royal Air Force Chinook (CH47) helicopters provide logistical support to French counter-terror operations in Mali.

During these operations the detachment overcame extreme weather conditions, both heat and violent thunderstorms. One large thunderstorm developed into a 200 nautical mile wide supercell as it passed through the whole Sahel region.


Long Range Reconnaissance Group as part of the UN Peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

MINUSMA is the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization mission in Mali. When established in 2013, the mission was asked to support the transitional authorities of Mali in the stabilisation of the country.

A soldier from the Light Dragoons on ‘top cover’ as the sun comes up on Salisbury Plain Training Area during their Mission Rehearsal Exercise before deploying to Mali.

1. The story so far:

Following the end of the UK’s deployment to the UN peacekeeping operation in South Sudan, the National Security Council agreed to deploy a UK Task Group to support the UN mission in Mali. Their role will be to conduct long-range reconnaissance patrols to gather intelligence to help the UN better understand how to help the people of Mali.

This operation is separate from the deployment of three Chinook helicopters by the Royal Air Force in support of French operations.

The Light Dragoons and the Royal Anglians form the basis of the new task group comprising soldiers from across defence with a wide array of skills, from bomb disposal experts to drone operators and a state-of-the-art medical team.

In December 2020 the Task Group deployed to Gao as the first rotation of soldiers to take part in the UN mission.

The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robinson of the LRRG Task Group conducts a handover ceremony with their German counterparts after arriving in Mali in Dec 2020.
A soldier from the LRRG Task Group receives Christmas post at Camp Bagnold.

2. What will they be doing?

UN peacekeeping operations support local political efforts to build sustainable long-term peace in the countries where they are deployed. Peacekeepers protect civilian populations, support political dialogue and reconciliation, prevent and reduce conflict, as well as promote and protect human rights.

Combat is not the objective of the deployment. The Long Range Reconnaissance Group will perform a crucial role within the UN mission. Conducting reconnaissance and patrol tasks, launched from the UN camp in Gao, to gather intelligence and engage with the local Malian people.

Information gathered will help improve the UN Mission Commander’s understanding of the situation on the ground and enable the mission to respond to threats to the people of Mali more effectively.

This is a peacekeeping operation, rather than a combat or counter-terrorism operation.

Lieutenant Colonel Robinson, the Commanding Officer of the LRRG Task Group upon arriving in Mali in Dec 2020.

The task group has received high-quality training on MINUSMA’s role in the prevention of gender-based violence and the protection of the rights of all people in conflict, regardless of gender.

The UK has also deployed an experienced specialist cultural advisor to ensure the Task Group’s contribution is the most valuable it can be.

They will work with international partners to build stronger communities, help tackle extremism and ensure the protection of civilians is prioritised.

3. Why are they going?

The Sahel is one of Africa’s poorest and most fragile regions. Marked by chronic poverty, instability and high levels of gender inequality, it is very vulnerable to violence and conflict from extremist and criminal organisations.

Mali is at the forefront of countries in Africa affected by instability. With terrorist violence and conflict between communities sharply on the rise, it is costing civilians their lives and preventing the development of one of the poorest countries in the world.

The UN mission has been operating in Mali for seven years, working towards a peaceful and prosperous future. The capability the British Army brings will both enhance the mission and strengthen our international military alliances and partnerships.

A soldier from The Royal Anglian Regiment walks across Salisbury Plain Training Area at dusk during the LRRG Task Group’s Mission Rehearsal Exercise in October 2020.

It is in all of our interests to work together to protect civilians and help build a safer, healthier and more prosperous future for the people of the region.

By helping to stabilise fragile states and tackle the root cause of conflict we help to secure people’s basic rights, as well as preventing conflicts growing beyond boundaries and causing instability in other countries.

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

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