RAF Chinooks deployed in Mali have helped transport French military armoured vehicles and equipment to forward operating bases in the country to avoid road travel.
Vehicles and equipment transported by the Chinooks include the French Army Panhard Véhicule Blindé Léger, also known by its acronym Panhard VBL or simply VBL. It is a French wheeled 4×4 all-terrain vehicle.
Since its production run from 1985 to 2010, the VBL has been used by the French Army and other European, African and Central American armies in various roles including reconnaissance.
It can be fitted with different weapons systems and equipment depending on its use, but in standard guise is armed with a 7.62mm machine gun and anti-tank weapon. It is amphibious and thanks to its compact size and low weight can be transported by air.
The RAF has been carrying out support missions for French and Malian ground forces during the recent political instability in the African country.
It is currently rainy season in the Sahel, making ground movement difficult. The Chinooks have allowed French troops to cover a much larger field of operations by moving personnel and equipment to the front-line of activity, eliminating the need for dangerous road moves.
The newly arrived aircrew from RAF Odiham has supported the French military with a programme of re-establishing Malian Army Forward Operating Bases that will also enable future French combat operations.
Once established these bases will be handed over to the Malian Army to enable a transition to autonomous security in each area that the base will cover.