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British troops forced to fit nets to protect vehicles from missiles

British troops are forced to fit nets to protect vehicles from missile attacks during mission to promote peace in West Africa

  • Soldiers are now using ‘rocket defusing netting’ after attacks on troops in Mali 
  • The netting prevents a missile warhead from detonating on impact with vehicle
  • One defence source says UN Mali mission is more dangerous than people think

Hundreds of British troops on a mission to promote peace in West Africa have been forced to use lifesaving netting to protect their vehicles from rocket attacks.

Soldiers from the Light Dragoons and Royal Anglian Regiments brought in ‘rocket defusing netting’ after deadly attacks on foreign troops in Mali.

Using a technique known as ‘crimping the fuse’, the netting prevents a missile warhead from detonating on impact with the vehicle.

A picture obtained by the Daily Mail shows the netting attached to a Foxhound vehicle used on long-range patrols

The rocket still strikes its target and may cause significant damage but there is no explosion – preventing loss of life inside the vehicle.

The Tarian netting, which is manufactured in the UK, was earlier used with great success in Afghanistan. Three hundred UK troops were sent to Mali in December – the most significant deployment of British forces since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the time, experts warned that Britain risked getting into another costly military campaign.

UK defence officials insisted the troops were merely acting as United Nation peacekeepers.

But since then a series of deadly jihadi strikes on UN personnel has persuaded UK commanders to upgrade security measures.

In late December and early January, five French troops were killed in clashes with jihadis in Mali. A security guard is seen above in Libya, another country affected by war

Last month 20 UN peacekeepers were injured in an attack on their base. In January, four UN troops were killed and five were wounded when terrorists planted a roadside bomb along their patrol route.

A picture obtained by the Daily Mail shows the netting attached to a Foxhound vehicle used on long-range patrols. 

A defence source said: ‘I am not surprised to see the netting being added because the Mali deployment is more dangerous than most people think. While UK troops are not there to conduct anti-terrorist operations, their mere presence offers a target for jihadists.

‘This is the most deadly UN mission in the world based on the numbers of so-called peacekeepers killed there in recent years. Essentially, there isn’t a peace to keep.’

The Army continuously reviews operations to ensure the right resources are used and lessons are learned. Risks to UK troops are also under continuous review.

The Tarian anti-rocket netting has been with UK troops since the start of the deployment, but this is the first time it has been seen attached to British vehicles.

The 300 UK troops are part of a 14,000-strong UN stabilisation force drawn from 56 countries. It is separate to a French-led anti-terrorism operation in Mali which is considered higher risk.

In late December and early January, five French troops were killed in clashes with jihadis in Mali. Seventeen French troops also died there in 2019. 

British troops were brought in to conduct long-distance reconnaissance patrols into desert areas.

Writing in a British military magazine last year, an RAF helicopter pilot who served in Mali warned that any suggestion that UK troops could avoid jihadis was wrong.

Chinook pilot Flight Lieutenant Andy Donovan said: ‘It would be naive to suggest that British ground forces are likely to avoid confrontations with aggressive armed groups simply because they are in a peacekeeping role. Direct engagements should be expected.’ 

Last night the Ministry of Defence said: ‘The United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Mali operates in a challenging environment and a thorough analysis of the UK contingent’s tasks and threats was completed prior to deployment. A range of equipment was chosen and UK personnel have been given the right protection to conduct their UN peacekeeping mission.’

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