LONDON: British troops have fatally shot two Islamist fighters, believed to belong to Daesh, in Mali.
The shooting is the first contact experienced by regular UK forces since combat operations in Afghanistan drew to a close in 2014.
The soldiers came under attack while on patrol as a part of a UN mission in Mali, where local forces have required support from Western allies — predominantly France — to counter a fierce insurgency.
The UN’s role in the Sahel nation is considered to be the most dangerous peacekeeping mission to which it deploys troops. It is continuing alongside a counterinsurgency operation led by French soldiers.
The sudden firefight between the Britons and the suspected Daesh fighters took place in a remote area in the east of the country where troops from the Queen’s Dragoon Guards — a light cavalry unit — were scouting for alternative routes after popular roads had been subject to improvised explosive devices.
The gunmen opened fire on the troops who were traveling in light armored vehicles between Indelimone — a town where a Malian military base had recently fallen to Islamist attackers — and Menaka, a regional hub.
The British soldiers reportedly chased down the Islamists in a 20-minute exchange, which ended when the gunmen were pinned down in some undergrowth on Wednesday morning.
The British troops from the Long Range Reconnaissance Group are taking part in Operation Newcombe under UN rules of engagement, which makes room for appropriate action in self-defense.
The British military said its intended action was to detain the two gunmen, who fired in excess of 100 rounds.
“Today’s action demonstrates exactly what the UK is bringing to the UN’s most dangerous peacekeeping mission — a long-range force that doesn’t just find those who harm civilians, but acts as well,” said Lt. Col. Will Meddings, the commanding officer of the deployment.
“Results like this come from patrolling huge distances, day and night, in places where ISGS (a term for Daesh in the Greater Sahara) feel they have the freedom to extort and murder, and proving to them that they cannot act with impunity.”