The Irish government decided to deploy its elite counterterrorism unit to Mali as part of the United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping effort in the region.

A team of 14 operators from the Army Ranger Wing (AWG), also known as the Irish Army Rangers, will be attached to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The AWG is an elite, “Tier 1” unit that specializes on Counterterrorism (CT), Hostage-Rescue (HR), Direct Action (DA), Counterinsurgency (COIN) and Special Reconnaissance (SR) operations.

The Irish SOF detachment will mainly conduct SR operations. It will be part of a larger German-led Special Operations reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering force that will roam the West African country in search of terrorist activities.

Paul Kehoe, the Minister of State at the Department of Defence – a junior position to the Defence Minister – said in a press statement that the Irish commandos’ deployment will secure stability in the war-torn region and “will be contributing to the security and stability of the wider G5 Sahel region. The region is a source of much criminality including people-trafficking and smuggling. Such criminal activities threaten security in the entire region and beyond, including the European Union.”

The Sahel region, also known as the G5 Sahel, is comprised of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger. The Sahel region is a hotbed of terrorism, with numerous Islamic fundamentalist groups active, to include local and international groups such as Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, al-Qaida, and the Islamic State.

The U.N. operation was launched in April 2013 to ensure security and support the Malian political processes as the West African country was undergoing a transitional period following the Civil War that began in 2012. Then, Tuareg rebels ousted government forces from Northern Mali. Thereafter, Islamic terrorist groups took advantage of the chaos to seize power in the breakaway region and then invade Southern Mali. The Islamists blitzkrieged their way toward the Malian capital, and if it weren’t for an international military intervention – spearheaded by France – the West African country would have fallen to the terrorists.

“Through this deployment also,” added the Irish politician, “Ireland has the capacity to enhance the effectiveness of this U.N. mission and to contribute to security and stability in this key region in support of the U.N., the EU and Ireland’s development aid programme.”

The Irish parliament, also known as the Dáil, approved the deployment earlier in the summer. There are already approximately 20 Irish servicemen in the country, assisting in bomb disposal and landmine clearance operations and training. They’re a little more than 16,000 U.N. personnel in the country.

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