Britain is deploying 300 troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali to help strengthen security and human rights there, its defence ministry said Thursday.
The British troops will provide the UN mission with “a highly specialized reconnaissance capability, conducting patrols to gather intelligence and engage with the local population,” the ministry said.
Mali is struggling with an Islamist insurgency that first erupted in the north but has since spread to the center of the country and spilled over into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the deployment was a “demonstration of our firm commitment to peacekeeping and the importance we place on improving security in the Sahel.”
“Our land forces are the best in the world, and we are one of a small handful of nations able to provide this specialist capability in a challenging environment, which will help prevent the spread of conflict across the region,” he added.
The UN Mission in Mali is made up of more than 14,000 peacekeepers from 56 different countries.
Most of Britain’s troops arrived on December 2, flying to the UN camp in Gao in eastern Mali.
“We bring years of experience on operations, first-class equipment and exceptional people,” said commanding officer Tom Robinson.
“We’re proud to be the first British soldiers to join in this team effort.”
Jihadists launched an insurgency in northern Mali in 2012 before being routed by French military intervention.
They then regrouped and advanced into the nation’s ethnically volatile center. Swathes of the country remain outside government control.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have had to flee their homes.
Britain has already deployed three Chinook helicopters and 100 personnel to Mali, providing logistical support for France’s anti-jihadist campaign, but this role is separate from that of the UN mission.