Irish, UK troops to deploy to Mali

Minister for Defence Alan Shatter TD (centre) and Anders Fogh Rasmussen (left), secretary general of Nato, speak to reporters after an informal meeting of EU defence ministers at Dublin Castle. Photograph: Getty

Minister for Defence Alan Shatter TD (centre) and Anders Fogh Rasmussen (left), secretary general of Nato, speak to reporters after an informal meeting of EU defence ministers at Dublin Castle. Photograph: Getty

Wed, Feb 13, 2013, 00:00

Minister for Defence Alan Shatter has announced the first joint deployment of British and Irish defence forces saying it was part of the “normalisation” of relations between the two countries.

The UK will lead the joint deployment of eight Irish and 18 British defence force members, under the First Royal Irish Regiment, as part of an EU training mission in Mali, Mr Shatter announced today. The decision followed a two-day EU defence ministers’ meeting.

The joint deployment will be part of an overall European Union military training mission (EUTM). It will include armed military training as well as human rights issues and the protection of civilians.

Mr Shatter held talks with Andrew Murrison, UK minister for international security strategy in Dublin and agreed on the joint deployment, which must first get Cabinet approval.

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

“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,” he added.

Mr Shatter said: “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.”

The EU announced plans to send a training mission to the north African country in December.

The EU mission will comprise about 250 trainers and a further 200 “force protectors”. The mission is expected to be begin by the end of next month.

Approximately 200 soldiers from across the EU will be deployed next month as part of the EU training missioni, where French and Malian troops

are battling to regain control of the north of the country from Islamist rebels.

It will be similar to EUTM Somalia, where an Irish general is leading the training of Somalian forces in Uganda. France and a number of Nordic countries will also provide joint teams.

Training is expected to begin in April and will provide the Malian armed forces with military training and advice on improving and maintaining security in the country and restoring the authority of its government.

Mr Shatter said while Ireland and UK forces have worked together in the past - including on UN Blue Hat, EU-led and Nato-led operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan - this is the first joint military contingent and would involve peacekeeping, training and tackling human rights abuses.

He also revealed the defence ministers did not have detailed discussions on whether the conflict in Mali had caused any extra terrorist threats on Europe.

“There is a consciousness that some of the fundamentalists and jihadi groups do pose a threat in a European context, but there’s nothing new about that,” added Mr Shatter.

Additional reporting: PA