Our journey to Operation NEWCOMBE really started in January this year and has been non-stop for the A Company family ever since. As the New Year started, so did our Mission Specific Training which saw a frenzy of training activity and live-fire ranges honing our skills before completing the Mission Rehearsal Exercise. The MRX was our final test before deployment where, thanks to the hard work of all our soldiers in the previous months, we proved ourselves more than capable of the challenges that lay ahead.
Operation NEWCOMBE 2 ‘Special'
Where it all began, Mission Specific Training and the MRX
Arrival in Mali, handover and preparation for Op MAKARA 1
The first of the challenges was simply dealing with the Malian environment. We knew we had an uphill struggle to adjust as the heat hit hard as we got off the plane. We received a handover from B Company and completed our programme of acclimatisation and battle preparation. We soon embarked on our first long patrol, Op MAKARA 1, which saw us move several days cross-country, to Tin Hama, a significant market settlement and under heavy Islamic State in the Greater Sahel (ISGS) influence. In doing so, we battled against the extreme weather Mali has to offer. Not only did we manage the intense heat, but also the storms and rain of the infamous wet season.
In particular, we were battered by a vicious storm the night before we were due to enter Tin Hama which turned small wadis into fast flowing rivers and the sandy dunes around the village into a quagmire. Despite the setbacks and the seemingly unending bogged in vehicles we reached Tin Hama in good order. In doing so, we quickly became aware that our presence deterred ISGS activity in the village. As a result of our mounted and dismounted patrols, by both day and night, Non-Governmental Organisations were able to run healthcare clinics and wedding ceremonies took place that would have been otherwise suppressed by ISGS.
Several days in Tin Hama included protecting a busy market. We then patrolled back west to the River Niger where we understood, protected, and helped the local residents including treating a badly burned baby.
Operation MAKARA 2 and 2B, responding to the Ouattagouna massacres
No sooner had we recovered from our first patrol were we preparing for the next one, and then actually deploying early to respond to the ISGS massacre of 57 civilians around the village of Ouattagouna on 8 Aug 21. Much of the Company’s efforts during Op MAKARA 2 and 2B were spent responding to this atrocity. We arrived in the village 36 hours following the killings with the soldiers of A Company showing their strength as we patrolled at all hours to deter further attacks. Simultaneously, our soldiers were at the forefront of reassuring the local population, speaking to communities throughout the different affected villages.
The understanding and rapport we developed with those affected put us in the best position to assist the UN Human Rights Investigation Team who later visited the village, informing the UN in New York and the UN’s wider response.
The next patrol saw A Company return to the area between Ouattagouna and Labbazanga. In doing so, we escorted journalists who were able to bring the story of what happened in Ouattagouna to an international audience and enabled UN civilians to meet with the displaced people from the attack to help facilitate their return home. Finally, we conducted joint patrolling with our Swedish counterparts to handover responsibility for the area, in safe knowledge they would continue the protection that we had started.
Operation MAKARA 3
A Company returned to Gao and got ‘patrol ready’ for what would become our final and potentially most challenging deployment. We would be going to Menaka, a 350km cross country drive putting into practice everything that we learned about the terrain and our vehicles. On route we supported and enabled the Task Group by navigating dangerous wildfires, finding routes, and marking crossing points of obstacles.
Once we reached Menaka itself, we protected the Task Group search specialists as they proved a safe route through a notoriously IED targeted area to enter the UN camp. A Company then spent several days patrolling in and around Menaka, assisting with a security meeting between the government, the UN, and local armed groups. We then recovered to Gao on another long cross-country move across the desert this time supporting the heavier sustainment vehicles.
Now the soldiers of A Company are beginning to trickle home (as fast as the RAF can allow!) and Operation NEWCOMBE 2 is coming to an end. It is difficult to summarise the achievements of our soldiers over the last 12-months. What we have done on patrol is just the final product of the countless hours of training, rehearsals, vehicle maintenance and even the odd game of volleyball.
A Company, and the wider Poacher family, should be rightly proud of what we have done out here, building on the success of B Company before us. As we look back, we made a real difference to the lives of the Malians by protecting them while simultaneously deterring terrorist activity and enabling our civilian counterparts to deliver long-lasting change for the Malian people.