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France conducts air operations in Mali and Central African Republic

France has recently conducted air operations in Central African Republic and in the Sahel region, the Armed Forces Ministry said.

Mirage 2000s in ‘show of force’ over Bambari

On January 11, two Mirage 2000 multirole jets “conducted a Close Air Support (CAS) mission over the town of Bambari in the Central African Republic,” in support of Minusca, the United Nations mission in CAR, the Armed Forces Ministry said in a Thursday, January 17 release.

Portuguese peacekeepers battled for five hours to protect civilians and restore order after UPC militants killed two police officers in Bambari on January 10, ahead of a scheduled visit by the country’s president.

The fighters which are stationed in N’Djamena, Chad “completed two ‘show of force’ demonstrations.”

“This maneuver consists of demonstrating a deterrent presence by flying over at a very low altitude and at a very high speed an area designated by a Minusca Joint Tactical Attack Controller (JTAC),” the ministry said. “This mission was made possible thanks to the regular training conducted by French fighters with the JTAC deployed within Minusca.”

The four-hour mission required multiple in-flight refuelling operations from a French C-135 tanker.

Bambari had returned to relative peace on January 12, but Radio Ndeke Luka reported on January 17 that Portuguese and Nepalese Minusca contingents had launched an assault against UPC militants to neutralize new threats after a pro-UPC demonstration the previous day.

In May, two French Mirage 2000-D fighter jets conducted a show of force over Kaga Bandoro in northern CAR in support of a Minusca operation to prevent militia members from moving towards the capital Bangui

French air operations in the Sahel

Between January 4 and 12, forces attached to Operation Barkhane, the French counter-terrorism mission in the Sahel, conducted operations in the Serma region of Mali in coordination with the Armed Forces of Mali (FAMa), the January 17 release said.

Helicopters from the Desert Aerocombat Battle Group, Mirage 2000s and Reaper drones were deployed to support Desert Tactical Group “Picardie.”

The operations “led to the dismantling of military training camps … as well as logistics bases.”

Vehicles, heavy and light arms and ammunition, improvised explosive devices and the equipment used to make them, and a large quantity of grenades were seized.

Intelligence was gathered from the military training center, pointing to a group of militants that were “preparing to take action” in the Dialoubé region.

Acting on that intelligence, Mirage 2000s supported by an Atlantic 2 long-range patrol aircraft and a Reaper drone, conducted an airstrike on January 10 in which about 15 insurgents were “put out of action.”

Those actions followed others in the same area earlier this month.

On the night of January 4, two helicopter operations north and south of the Serma Forest were supported by an airstrike, the Armed Forces Ministry said in a January 10 release. One of the operations “led to the neutralization of terrorists.”

During operations mid-December and early January “about 20 members of terrorist groups were put out of action,” the release said.

On December 27, a combined air raid of fighters and Tigre helicopters struck insurgent assembly points south of the Mali-Niger border near Tongo Tongo. Nigerien Armed Forces soldiers and French personnel then conducted a two-day search of the area. Around 15 militants were “put out of action” and about 20 motorcycles were recovered, along with weapons and ammunition.

Overnight on December 19, French Mirage 2000 jets struck a column of motorcycles that had crossed the border from Niger to Mali, killing at least five. In ground operations following that strike, French forces “recovered material that had belonged to U.S. soldiers who had been ambushed in Tongo-Tongo in October 2017,” the ministry said in a December 27 release.

The recent unrest in the Sahel began in Mali in 2012 with Tuareg separatist uprising against the state, which was exploited by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda who took key cities in the desert north.

France began its Operation Serval military intervention in its former colony early the next year, driving the jihadists from the towns, but the militant groups morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, sometimes winning over local populations by providing basic services and protection from bandits.

The insurgency has gradually spread to central and southern regions of Mali, and across the borders into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Large swathes of the country remain outside government control, despite a 2015 peace accord designed to isolate the Islamists.

The French mission evolved into the current Operation Barkhane, which has roughly 4,500 French personnel deployed with a mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the region. Three RAF Chinook heavy lift helicopters based in Gao have since August 2018 supported French troops in Mali, and 50 Estonian soldiers are deployed in Gao in a force-protection capacity.

Troops deployed to Barkhane work alongside the U.N. Minusma stabilization mission in Mali, which began in 2013, has about 12,000 troops and 1,750 police deployed, and the G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train and deploy up to 5,000 personnel.

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