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France conducts air operations in Mali and Burkina Faso

Aircraft deployed to France’s Operation Barkhane have recently conducted air operations in Mali and Burkina Faso, the Armed Forces Ministry said on Thursday, January 31.

Helicopters deployed after attack in Tarikent, Mali

On January 29, two members of the Armed Forces of Mali (FAMa) were killed and 10 injured in a “complex” attack on a base in Tarikent in the Gao region.

After they were notified by FAMa, France’s Operation Barkhane sent two helicopter patrols from its Desert Aerocombat Battle Group (GTD-A), a Tigre-Gazelle patrol and a Tigre-Tigre patrol, France’s Armed Forces Ministry said in its weekly operations update.

Intervention was not necessary, but the helicopters provided “information on the operational situation in the area.”

Later in the day, Caiman and Cougar helicopters landed in the camp and evacuated seven FAMa personnel to Gao, where they were treated by French medical and surgical teams.

A mountain commando group secured the site and later along with the GTD-A “conducted a search operation in a village some 30 km north of the attack site.”

Figher jet and helicopters deployed after ‘major’ attack in Nassaoumbou, Burkina Faso

On January 28, at least four Burkina Faso soldiers were killed when gunmen raided a military base in Nassoumbou in Soum province in the North region.

After the “major terrorist attack” and at the request of the Burkinabé military authorities, the Barkhane force first sent a Mirage 2000 fighter jet patrol, which “performed a show of force,” followed by a GTD-A Tigre patrol, the ministry release said.

A ‘show of force’ maneuver demonstraes a deterrent presence by flying over at a very low altitude and at a very high speed.

Later, four wounded Burkina Faso armed forces members were evacuated by helicopter to Ouagadougou where they were treated by local health services.

In early October, the French armed forces confirmed that helicopters were used in operations in the East Region, only the second time that French aerial forces had been used in Burkina Faso.

French aircraft deployed to Operation Barkhane made 95 sorties in the January 23-29 period, including 36 fighter sorties, 15 refuelling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sorties and 44 transport missions, the ministry release said.

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 U.K. Royal Air Force 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 and has about 12,000 troops and 1,750 police deployed, as well as the G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train and deploy up to 5,000 personnel.

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