The Army Ranger Wing – a part of Ireland’s special operations forces – are to be deployed to Africa as part of the Defence Forces UN-mandated overseas commitments. Their destination is Mali, where the Irish Army already providing 20 people to the EU Training Mission (EUTM), which is aimed at developing the Malian army’s capacity to re-establish some stability in a country that has seen intensifying conflict since 2012.
The Irish Ranger Wing will not be helping in the EUTM, instead, they will be taking part in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), described by The Washington Post as “The World’s Deadliest Mission”. What does that mean for the Irish Special Operations Forces? It means that they will dive into a highly complex regional conflict.
The Irish Special Operations Forces will send a 12-man team and their main task will be operating on long distance patrols in what is effectively a counter-terrorism model mission. In fact, they will continue the efforts of the other European armies which fight an insurgency in Mali. The last counter-offensive by French troops with air support and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission have not stopped attacks by the local al-Qaeda affiliate rising. They have quadrupled since 2015.
The human cost is the potential for casualties in the new deployment. Northern Mali is a war zone where MINUSMA is seen as a legitimate target. A statement around this time last year said the following: “The casualties in 2017 are the highest number ever recorded by the Committee.
“In the past five years, at least 310 United Nations personnel have died in deliberate attacks. For the fourth year in a row, the peacekeeping mission in Mali suffered the greatest loss of life with 21 peacekeepers and seven civilians killed.”
Homemade bombs or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have taken a terrible toll on the blue helmets. MINUSMA patrols come up against militias who have experience in Libya and who are well armed and well resourced. The most recent UN report on Mali in August 2018 said there had been an increase in “complex attacks” (ambushes) on international forces. The interesting analysis of the further Irish Army Ranger Wing deployment is published in RTE article “Risk is Real as Irish Special Forces Deploy to Mali“.