The French Presidency on Tuesday announced that thirteen of its soldiers fighting extremists in central Mali were killed on Monday in an accident between two helicopters on combat mission.
It did not provide a location where the accident occurred but stated the accident is the single biggest loss of French troops in combat in the region since they began intervening there in 2013.
The statement from President Emmanuel Macron’s office as quoted by Reuters read:
“The President announces with deep sadness the death of 13 French troops in Mali on the evening of November 25, in an accident between their two helicopters during a combat mission against jihadists”.
The circumstances surrounding the accident are not immediately clear and France’s Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said the accident occurred while the helicopters were in flight.
The Defence Ministry said the helicopters involved in the Central Mali operation were a Tiger and a Cougar.
The ministry in a statement said “they were supporting commandos from the Barkhane force who were engaged with armed terrorists.”
France, the former colonial power in the region, intervened in Mali six years ago to drive out Extremist militants who had occupied the north and still use swathes of the country as a launchpad for attacks across the largely desert region.
Paris has since kept troops in the region as part of Barkhane counter-terrorism operations, while Western powers have provided funding to a regional force made up of soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso,
Chad and Mauritania-
France has expressed frustrations for bearing the brunt of operations on the ground, although other European countries have provided logistical support, trainers and some special forces.
Diplomats say by reinforcing African forces, Paris sees an eventual exit strategy for what is its biggest foreign deployment.
Monday’s deaths bring the total number of French soldiers killed in the Sahel to 28.