Thirteen French soldiers were killed on Monday when two helicopters collided in northern Mali, French media reported on Tuesday.
French President Emmanuel Macron in a statement remembered the soldiers with utmost respect.
“[..] These soldiers of the army […] fallen in operation and dead for France in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel,” said the presidency in a statement.
The two helicopters, a Tiger and a Cougar, collided while flying at low altitude on their way to support a special operations team on the ground in contact with armed terrorist.
According to the official release, the spec-ops team was already on the ground for a few days and made contact with a terrorist group moving on pickups and motorbikes. After requesting support, Mirage 2000s, a Cougar and a Tiger were dispatched to the area. The Cougar was carrying six mountain commandos and a mission chief and was tasked with the immediate extraction of the team.
Around 19:40 (Paris time), while approaching the landing zone, the Cougar and the supporting Tiger collided for unknown causes, crashing close to each other without survivors. The thirteen soldiers who lost their life are the two crew members of the Tiger, belonging to the 5e Régiment d’hélicoptères de combat (5e RHC), the five crew members of the Cougar, belonging to the same unit of the Tiger, four special operators of the Groupement commandos montagne (GCM) du 4e Régiment de chasseurs (4e RCH), an operator of the 93e Régiment d’artillerie de montagne (93e RAM) and operator of the 2e Régiment étranger du génie (2e REG).
A security and recovery operation is currently underway. The soldiers were deployed in support of Operation Barkhane, the French anti-insurgency effort in Africa’s Sahel region.
Since August 2014, France’s anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane has had around 4,500 troops deployed in five West African countries: Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad.
It aids in the fight against militant groups in the Sahel region, especially in Mali.