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Philip Hammond has paid tribute to UK Armed Forces personnel helping to tackle insurgents in West Africa after a visit to Senegal and Mali.
The Defence Secretary was in the region to witness the work of personnel from all 3 Services who are helping to stabilise Mali in the face of the threat from Islamic fundamentalists.
Mr Hammond said:
I have been greatly impressed by the professionalism and commitment of the Armed Forces personnel who have been supporting operations in Mali. This mission clearly demonstrates the adaptability of our military, being able to quickly deploy in support of our international partners, and underlines the importance of early intervention to halt the spread of instability in the region.
We are increasing investment in longer-term conflict prevention; our Armed Forces will be much more engaged in capacity-building and the training of domestic forces in future.
A key component of the UK contribution is the RAF Sentinel detachment based in the Senegalese capital of Dakar. The aircraft has flown more than 60 successful missions providing invaluable surveillance support to French and African forces operating in northern Mali, giving a 360-degree view of vast tracts of land. The detachment has now completed its tasking and will soon return home.
Wing Commander Fin Monahan, commanding officer of the Sentinel detachment in Dakar, said:
The team in Dakar have performed extremely well. The speed with which they deployed was particularly impressive and within days they had set up a fully functioning deployed operating base.
The personnel based here have executed round-the-clock operations, and the French have been very grateful for the high-quality intelligence. It has been an honour to have been placed in command of such a willing and dedicated group.
The UK is also providing troops to the EU Training Mission, which aims to improve the capability of the Malian Army and enable them to take on the insurgents.
Mr Hammond visited the Royal Marines and soldiers from 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment who are based at Koulikoro, outside Mali’s capital, Bamako.
The units deployed at the end of March 2013 alongside soldiers from the Irish Defence Force, and the first Mali army battalion to enter the training package is currently 4 weeks away from completing the course.
Colonel Christophe Paczka, the French Training Commander in Koulikoro, said:
The training package being delivered by the men and officers of the Royal Irish Regiment and Royal Marines is making an important contribution to the training of the first Malian battle group.
The Brits’ previous operational and training experience is clear to see and I very much value their contribution as do the men and officers of the Malian battalion.
The British approach to operations is very similar to the French and has made for a seamless integration into this French-led mission. Moreover, it has been another example of the strength of UK- French relations and the affiliation between the Royal Marines and the French 9e brigade d’infanterie de marine.
British support to international stabilisation efforts in Mali has included C-17 transport aircraft in support of both the French and African nations, which concluded operations on 21 April 2013, Sentinel surveillance aircraft, and the transportation of French military supplies on a roll-on, roll-off ferry.