UK troops have battled a sandstorm to seize a cache of weapons hidden by terrorists in Mali.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said around 100 soldiers from the Light Dragoons and Royal Anglian Regiment found AK47 rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, camouflage clothing, radios, mobile phones and hundreds of litres of fuel during the operation.
The mission took place in early May, shortly after suspected fighters of the so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahel (ISGS) fled by swimming across the River Niger.
Terrorists had been intimidating locals, extorting money and assaulting people who refused to comply with their demands – meaning UK forces were able to respond to protect them under the UN’s peacekeeping mandate, the MoD said.
The mission, which was executed in a village near the border of Niger, was the first “cordon and search” operation, acting on intelligence proactively gathered, carried out by UN forces in Mali.
Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said: “This was the first operation of its kind by UN forces in Mali, demonstrating how UK personnel have made a significant contribution to the mission during their first six months in the country.
“Removing the weapons and disrupting the terrorist operation will make a real difference to the local community and importantly the intelligence collected will help develop our understanding and help to prevent the threat from armed groups in the future.”
The MoD said the operation, which was supported by a specialist Royal Engineers search team, took place during incredibly challenging conditions, including a sandstorm that reduced visibility to 30 metres, over 50C heat and soldiers carrying up to 45kg of equipment.
Lieutenant Colonel Tom Robinson, commanding officer of the Light Dragoons, said: “This operation is a tangible example of how UK soldiers, as part of the UN Force, are making a real difference to protect the people of Mali who are living in one of the most vulnerable regions in the world.
“Using intelligence gathered during our patrols, we focussed on where terrorist groups were intimidating local people and were then able to find and seize the weapons and supplies, disrupting their harmful influence on local communities and gathering more information that will help interrupt further extremist activity.”
The 300-strong UK Task Group deployed to Mali in December 2020 to support the UN mission, which is made up of more than 13,000 peacekeepers from 56 different countries.
The weapons and intelligence collected have been passed to the UN Mine Action Service, UN Police, and Malian authorities, who will eventually destroy the materials.
Swedish Colonel Markus Hook, commanding officer of the UN Mission’s Mobile Task Force – of which the UK troops are a part, said: “This Cordon and Search Operation was the first of its kind in a long period.
“It was based on information which suggested that a specific location within a village was being used for weapon storage by non-compliant armed groups which were harassing the local population.
“The operation was a direct and timely response to intelligence, and it serves as a telling example of how we are proactively fulfilling our mandate to protect civilians.”