A Long Range Reconnaissance Group (LRRG) from the United Kingdom deployed on patrol in the north of Mali to protect civilians were warmly welcomed by the local population and ended up celebrating with them one of the most important festivities of the Muslim calendar.
The UK ‘LRRG’, as they are widely known in peacekeeping jargon, found themselves the centre of joy and sharing while deployed to perform protection of civilian duties in the south of the region of Gao. Their job was to provide protection and secure a small town identified as a hotspot for terrorist armed groups activities.
What started as a protection and securing mission to pave the way for the celebration of Eid al-Adha, also known as Tabaski, on 9 July, ended with the soldiers being invited by the village elder to join the feast. An honour for the British task group, a ‘humbling experience’ in the words of many peacekeepers involved in the operation.
Tabaski is the second most important and biggest celebration ofthe Islamic calendar. It marks the 10th day of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah (twelfth and last month of the Muslim calendar) and lasts for four days with a focus on sacrifice and sharing.
Food is traditionally split three ways between family, friends and relatives, with the final third donated to those in need within the community. Tabaski is celebrated as a joyous affair full of dancing and music, but terrorist armed groups operating in the north of Mali have been disrupting this practice.
Weeks before the start of the celebration, the town came under attack by terrorists, its population intimidated, and cattle seized by force. The stolen cattle were part of the town’s offering for the Eid al-Adha celebration.
Having in mind the importance of the date, MINUSMA identifiedthe town as a key location to deploy the LRRG as a way toprovide relief during the Tabaski period. The objective was also to empower the town people to celebrate the festival in accordance with their age-old traditions.
Preparations to celebrate Tabaski start weeks before, with families purchasing goats, sheep, camels or cows readying them for the sacrifice. The significance of the event in both the Malian national calendar and Muslim faith made it a priority for the UK LRRG to provide security and ensure that the people could celebrate in peace and enjoy the festivities with their families.
The UK LRRG peacekeepers ended up sharing their culture with the town people, learning more about the traditions of Gao and Mali and enjoying exquisite food prepared following ages-old recipes.
MINUSMA’s soldiers stated that the hospitality of the Malians was truly ‘astounding and a great source of motivation’ as they begun a new phase of the LRR
“I found it amazing to see how these people, who didn’t have much, could be so generous and accommodating and it made me want to do all I could to make sure they were safe to celebrate.”
The soldiers of the LRRG are led by the 1st Battalion of The Royal Irish Regiment and include personnel from 27 other units of the British Army.
These peacekeepers are part of the UK’s commitment to the United Nations Peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and further commitment to the protection of civilians and peacebuilding and sustaining peace. This is part of the Action for Peacekeeping agenda, developed by the United Nations and implemented in all its field operations.
Capt T Belfield