Personnel based at RAF Odiham have returned from a demanding and intense 4-month operational tour in the West African state of Mali supporting the French-led Op Barkhane counter insurgency operations in the region.
The personnel from 18 (Bomber) Squadron RAF, together with supporting elements from the Tactical Support Wing and Joint Helicopter Support Squadron, formed 1310 Flight RAF to operate the RAF CH-47 Chinook helicopters that are currently based at Gao Mali.
Wing Commander Si Elsey, the UK National Component Commander, has also handed over command of the RAF detachment and reflecting on the tour said:
“The ongoing Chinook operations in Mali are extremely challenging due to the environment in which we are operating.
“This tour has however been extremely successful due to the professionalism of all the service personnel deployed here. They have managed to maintain a high operational tempo throughout, which has been acknowledged by our French Allies”
During the tour, the Chinooks of 1310 Flt have carried out several significant operations. One of them saw the Chinooks conducting a series of company sized air lifts of units of the French Army’s Groupement Tactique Desert 1 across central Mali. During one phase of the operation a Chinook flew through the night alongside French Caiman helicopters to insert over 130 troops to conduct a clearance patrol in force. After 36 hours on the ground the French troops were recovered back to Gao the Chinooks main operating base.
1310 Flight have also been working during this tour to assist the French military with a programme of re-establishing Malian Army Forward Operating Bases. These bases are spread across the Op Barkhane area of operations and the Chinooks conducted numerous flights to supply the French troops at each new base with supplies, equipment and heavy weaponry.
During these operations the detachment has been required to overcome extreme weather conditions, both heat and violent thunderstorms. Recently, one large thunderstorm developed into a 200 nautical mile wide supercell as it passed through the whole Sahel region. This resulted in the planned night inserts being delayed, but once the storms had passed, the crews again worked through the night to drop the troops at first light, to again conduct a successful clearance patrol. Once established these bases will be handed over to the local Malian Army to enable a transition to autonomous security in each are that the base will cover.
During this deployment the Chinook detachment has also been heavily involved in airlifting French troops to and from their bases across Mali as the French military conducted a changeover of troops.