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Soldiers from 1st Battalion The Rifles (1 RIFLES) have assumed responsibility for the UK's contribution to the EU mission in Mali.
The riflemen take over from 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment (1 R IRISH), which deployed 6 months ago in support of the ongoing EU Training Mission as part of wider efforts to build long-term stability in Mali.
1 R IRISH officially handed over responsibility to 1 RIFLES on 14 September.
Major Sam Cates, officer commanding the 1 RIFLES deployment, said:
The team is currently busy integrating themselves into the EU Training Mission after arriving a week ago. Some of the team have already been in the field supporting the final test exercise of the second Malian battle group who recently completed their training.
The battalion was well trained and effective and it is clear that the Royal Irish have set the bar high. We look forward to meeting that challenge by continuing to deliver effective training.
Commanding Officer of 1 R IRISH, Lieutenant Colonel Ivor Gardiner, said:
1 RIFLES, who are deploying to Mali to take up the role, will assume responsibility for the mission, delivering intensive 10-week training slots to Malian units designed to develop skills and tactics from individual to battle group level. The training also gives the Malians a clear practical understanding of the standards of ethical conduct required of troops engaged in combat and counter-insurgency operations.
The Rifles will be deployed for 6 months and will draw upon experience of similar missions in Afghanistan, where they mentored and trained local forces 2 years ago. The 21 volunteers have also prepared with extensive pre-deployment training including cross-country driving, close-quarter marksmanship, foreign weapon handling, mentoring and French language lessons.
Royal Irish in Mali
During their tour, the soldiers of 1 R IRISH trained 2 full companies of the Malian Army in combat and counter-insurgency operations. These Malian units will play a key role in combating insurgents in the country going forward.
Based at Koulikoro Training Camp, 40 miles from the capital Bamako, the regiment was supported by personnel from 45 Commando Royal Marines, as well as troops from the Republic of Ireland’s Defence Forces.
In addition to military personnel, the UK also deployed civilian trainers from the ‘preventing sexual violence initiative’ to train troops in the protection of civilians and international humanitarian law. The 40-man team was a significant element of the EU effort which consists of 500 staff from 22 EU member states.
A tremendous job
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:
The soldiers from 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment have done a tremendous job at the forefront of the UK’s contribution to the training mission, setting the groundwork for the rebuilding of the Malian Army into a force capable of restoring order in the country.
I have every confidence that 1st Battalion The Rifles will build on their efforts and successes as the UK continues to support Mali’s move forward on the path towards long-term stability and development.
Lieutenant Colonel Gardiner added:
In addition to intensive instructional output this deployment has also demanded deft diplomacy from the team.
Undeterred by the unique challenges of the training environment they have deployed energy, initiative and constant engagement and helped to build self-confident, motivated Malian units that are ready to take on responsibility for securing their own country.
UK support to Mali mission
The 1 RIFLES deployment with the EU Training Mission follows initial UK military support to the efforts of French and African Union troops who went into Mali in January 2013 to help halt the advance of Islamist extremists and to stabilise the country. The UK contribution included C-17 transport aircraft, Sentinel surveillance aircraft and the transportation of French military supplies on board a roll-on, roll-off ferry.