Helicopter collision kills French troops in Mali

Thirteen French soldiers have been killed in a helicopter collision during an operation against jihadists in Mali, the French president’s office says.

President Emmanuel Macron expressed “deep sadness” over the biggest single loss of life for the French military since the 1980s.

An investigation has begun into how the two helicopters hit each other.

Thousands of French troops have been deployed in Mali since 2013 after militants overran parts of the north.

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Mali’s army has since recaptured the territory but insecurity continues and the violence has spread to neighbouring countries.

France now has 4,500 troops deployed to support the forces of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad against the jihadists.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly vowed that her country would not turn its back on the fight against terrorism after the deadly collision.

“We fight alongside our partners and brothers-in-arms from Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso to together give these countries the peace and stability to which their people aspire,” she said.

It happened in darkness around 19:40 local time (also GMT) on Monday near the borders of Burkina Faso and Niger where the aircraft were reinforcing ground troops who were pursuing militants, the French military says.

A Tiger attack helicopter hit a Cougar military transport mid-air as it manoeuvred to engage the militants, who were fleeing on motorbikes and in pick-up trucks.

The two aircraft crashed not far from each other, killing everyone on board including six commandos and an officer.

Among the dead is the son of French Senator Jean-Marie Bockel, Pierre, who was a lieutenant.

“These 13 heroes had only one goal: to protect us,” President Macron wrote in a tweet. “I bow my head to their loved ones and comrades.”

A minute’s silence was observed at the National Assembly in Paris.

Condolences were sent to President Macron from his Malian counterpart Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore.

“The loss is heavy but the peoples of the Sahel share your bereavement,” President Keita said.

It is the heaviest toll in a single incident since 1986 when a French sea surveillance plane crashed into a mountain in northern Djibouti with the loss of 19 soldiers.

In total, 41 French soldiers have been killed in Mali since the country first intervened. -BBC

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