The UK will continue to commit one of its Boeing C-17 strategic transports to supporting France's Operation Serval in Mali for a further three months, but will assess the arrangement should the conflict continue.

"We would want at that point to review what impact, if any, any extension beyond that time would have on the [UK's] air bridge to Afghanistan," says defence secretary Philip Hammond. "Afghanistan remains our principal focus and we will not do anything that will impinge upon success there," he told the House of Commons on 29 January.

 RAF C-17s - Crown Copyright

Crown Copyright

Two of the Royal Air Force's eight C-17s were provided to support the early build-up of French personnel and equipment in the Malian capital Bamako, following the start of its military intervention against al-Qaeda and Islamist militants in the country on 11 January.

Tasks being performed by the one aircraft still allocated to the campaign include transferring equipment between France and Bamako and other African locations such as Dakar in Senegal, the Ministry of Defence says. Twenty UK personnel are also deployed at Bamako airport to support and protect operations with the C-17.

One of the RAF's five Raytheon Systems Sentinel R1 ground surveillance aircraft is also supporting the intervention from Dakar, with the deployment of the 5 Sqn aircraft and its ground support elements since 25 January totalling about 70 personnel.

"We have not set a time limit for the [Sentinel] surveillance capability," says Hammond. "It will stay for as long as we can provide it without impact on other operations and as long as it is useful." The aircraft was committed to the campaign following a request from the French government.

Meanwhile, on 24 January armed forces minister Andrew Robathan confirmed "there are currently no plans for the UK to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles to Mali".

Source: Flight International