British and Irish troops join forces for Mali

A Nigerian soldier during a patrol in the northern Malian city of Gao.The soldiers are part of a west African force authorised by the UN. photograph: francois rihouay/reuters

A Nigerian soldier during a patrol in the northern Malian city of Gao.The soldiers are part of a west African force authorised by the UN. photograph: francois rihouay/reuters

Thu, Feb 14, 2013, 00:00

Irish and British soldiers will for the first time take part in a joint operation as part of an EU training mission in Mali.

Minister for Defence Alan Shatter said yesterday the move was part of the “normalisation” of relations between Ireland and Britain.

Britain would lead the joint deployment of eight Irish and 18 British soldiers under the First Royal Irish Regiment as part of the EU mission, he said.

Mr Shatter agreed the deployment with Andrew Murrison, Britain’s minister for international security strategy, during a two-day EU defence ministers’ meeting. “This will be the first occasion there has been a formal joint deployment under the UN mandate of mission involving our defence forces and the UK,” he said.

‘Historical’ agreement

The agreement was “historical” and came just under two years since the visit of Queen Elizabeth, he added.

“It is yet another indicator of the total normalisation of relationships between all of us on this island, the island of Ireland, and between this State and the United Kingdom,” Mr Shatter said.

United Nations Security Council resolution 2071 provides for the mission and Mr Shatter will also seek Government approval ahead of the deployment of Irish personnel.

Irish and British forces had worked together before in UN, EU and Nato-led operations, including in the Balkans and in Afghanistan. “It is simply there hasn’t been what could be correctly described as a joint deployment previously,” Mr Shatter said.

‘Declare war’

The two countries may join forces for further UN-mandated operations in the future, he said. Mr Shatter added: “If you’re asking me is Ireland and the UK going to declare war on someone or invade I can tell you no that’s not part of the agenda.

“We are not looking for conflict we are looking to facilitate peacekeeping and training.”

The EU announced plans to send the training mission to Mali in December with the aim of boosting the country’s defence forces and also helping to protect civilians and human rights.

The mission will be made up of about 500 personnel in total, including 200 instructors along with force protectors and support staff. It is expected to be deployed by mid-March with training to begin at the start of April. The mission will initially last for 15 months.

The crisis in Mali began last March after a military coup left a power vacuum. A rebellion by ethnic Touareg MNLA separatists has since been hijacked by Islamist extremists who took over much of the country.

This prompted the intervention of 4,000 French troops last month who pushed back rebels and extremists. France now wants an African peacekeeping force to take over, with hopes that the UN security council will agree to such a mission in the coming weeks.

Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen ruled out the group’s involvement in Mali, saying Nato has “no intention” of intervening in north Africa.