British UN peacekeepers remain on “A-game” to ensure Malians’ safety
BAMAKO – A young UK soldier says he must stay on his “A-game” on patrol with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, to ensure his safety, that of his colleagues and the Malians in the country. one of the most dangerous UN posts in the world.
Private Jack Drake, who just celebrated his 25th birthday on tour, is part of a British reconnaissance contingent of 300, who arrived in the West African country in December 2020.
Its role in the mission known as MINUSMA is to gather information on local conditions and protect civilians in hot spots around its base in Gao in northeastern Mali.
Private Drake spoke to UN News ahead of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, which is celebrated on May 29 each year.
Accelerate over difficult terrain
âI am a driver for a reconnaissance troop in the British MINUSMA contingent. My job is to drive and maintain my 4×4 vehicle, on and off road, a Jackal 2, when we are on base and on patrol, and call in mechanics if necessary. One of the things I love the most about my job is being practical with vehicles.
The terrain and climate is difficult and quite dark, especially now in the dry season when it’s very sandy, so I really have to focus on choosing the best route for the vehicle and knowing when to put my foot down to avoid staying stuck up. I really had to adapt and learn new skills to drive in this environment, which is exciting for me personally and professionally.
Gao is a stimulating place to work. During the day, temperatures can reach 51 Â° C (124 Â° F), so it is extremely hot and unlike anything I have experienced before. On patrol, we drink 14 liters of water a day.
“Mali is a dangerous place at the moment”
In February, we carried out a 28-day patrol, the longest ever undertaken by MINUSMA, reaching villages in truly remote places. Mali is a dangerous place right now, so I really have to be on my A-game on patrol. It is important to recognize any threat and to stay on at all times. You rely on other members of your crew to stay safe.
I was very suspicious when I arrived in the country, but now I know better how to read the atmosphere of a situation, for example, understand what the inhabitants feel when we arrive in a village.
Understanding the human terrain is as important as understanding the physical terrain in reconnaissance work, so it’s a new skill that I learned. We call it situational awareness, which is crucial because it helps MINUSMA respond to threats against civilians.
Bring a sense of security
Patrolling remote areas brings a sense of security to the people who live there and helps reduce crime such as theft. I have patrolled on foot the local village markets where thousands of people buy and sell the things they need to survive, which is an amazing experience.
There is an endless stream of people arriving; their motorcycles and donkey-drawn carts filled with sacks of rice, millet and tea. The steady buzz of chatter is interspersed with the bleating of goats and the cries of young children tied behind their mothers’ backs. The aroma of spices fills the air, coupled with the smell of cattle and freshly caught fish.
It feels good to be able to help keep people safe. With our presence, they can sleep better at night knowing that their crops will not be taken or their animals stolen. Although Mali is dangerous, we are well trained and well prepared; we’re good at what we do, so any armed element would be wary of targeting us.
This is my first time serving abroad and I expected a level of poverty in Mali, but it opened my eyes to see how widespread it is here. We meet a lot of kids without shoes, so one day my coworker bought a pair of flip flops for a young boy and he was so grateful.
I think that as a peacekeeper in their twenties, young Malians feel more comfortable with me than with an older soldier; I guess they feel like I’m a little less different from them than older colleagues. We sometimes play football with local kids, which they really like; you can see their faces light up making them really happy.
All in all, it is a truly unique experience to be here and one that my friends in the north of England are quite jealous of. You can see the difference you are making as a UN Peacekeeper and it is a gratifying feeling â. – UN News