CRACK Brit troops will follow in the footsteps of the first SAS missions by joining the UN in the Sahara desert from October to battle terrorists and armed groups.
A 250-strong unit will help in war-torn Mali, West Africa, — swarming with gangs and jihadis.
In an exclusive interview with The Sun on Sunday, Lt Gen Dennis Gyllensporre, the UN peacekeepers commander, said the new British unit would transform his 13,000-strong force.
“We haven’t got enough helicopters,” Gen Gylennsporre said. “That is my top priority.”
Our troops will have to brave sandstorms, sand vipers and deadly deathstalker scorpions – which became emblem of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) when it was formed in 1940 during the North Africa campaign.
The LRDG’s founder, Major Ralph Alger Bagnold, was an expert desert navigator. He delivered David Stirling’s SAS on their first ever missions, behind the lines in Libya.
Small teams of SAS are on the ground in Mali preparing for the main force of Light Dragoons and Royal Anglian troops to arrive in October.
“Living in the desert for long periods, travelling vast distances and still having the strength at the end of it to deliver a knock out blow to your enemy is exactly what the LRDG and the SAS perfected in World War Two,” a source said.
“It is exactly what this new scorpion unit will do Mali. It is just a different part of the same desert.”
The troops will be based in Gao, a remote desert down about 200 miles east of Timbuktu on the southern edge of the Sahara.
They will operate with open top Jackal vehicles, the modern cousins of fighting jeeps pioneered by the LRDG.
“The British force is not just a long-range reconnaissance unit,” Gen Gylennsporre, a former director of Swedish special forces, said. “It is also a force that I foresee has the agility to respond quickly. We can employ lethal force to execute our mandate.”
The biggest challenge for the soldiers will be knowing who to trust. Hundreds of rival armed groups roam the badlands of northern Mali including Isis and Al Qaeda, corrupt local militias and mafia gangs smuggling drugs, people, gold and guns.
Mali has been gripped by conflict since a failed coup in 2012.
The government is propped up by Lt Gen Gyllensporre’s force, but last week protestors burned the parliament and stormed the state TV station, because of anger over corruption.
Violence has surged in the last few months as jihadis flee Syria and the civil war in Libya. Gen Gyllensporre said attacks were getting bigger and more complex.
Malian troops must be vetted for human rights abuses. Some have and joined militias, while other groups have reconciled and are fighting on the UN side.
British troops will work alongside Swedish light infantry, a German intelligence unit, and 400 Chinese soldiers who guard the main camp at Gao run a field hospital.
An elite French paratrooper was killed by a roadside bomb on Thursday bringing the country’s death toll to 43 since 2013. The UN have lost 129 killed and 358 wounded in the same period.
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