More than 20 “terrorists” were killed in joint operation against Islamic State in the Greater Sahara conducted by French and Malian forces in coordination with Niger’s military, the French armed forces ministry said on Monday.
French soldiers deployed to Operation Barkhane, the counter-terrorism mission in the Sahel, late on Thursday, June 13 “conducted an airborne operation against an armed terrorist group in southern Mali’s Liptako, near Niger,” the ministry said.
“This action, carried out in conjunction with the Armed Forces of Mali (FAMa), was initiated in coordination with the Nigerien army operating south of the border, and through its intelligence.”
Supported by a Tigre helicopter patrol and a Reaper drone, the helicopter commandos “entered a wooded area in the Azabara area to directly confront the terrorist group that had been spotted there.”
The engagement continued through the following day.
Three crew members were injured when a Gazelle helicopter deployed in support of ground troops was “forced into an emergency landing” on June 14. They were evacuated to Gao and then to France but they “are not in danger,” the release said.
The Gazelle crash was first reported by local journalist Walid Le Berbère on Friday.
A Mirage 2000 jet carried out a series of strikes on enemy positions, and an armored detachment and FAMa personnel deployed in support of the commandoes.
“More than 20 terrorists have been put out of action as a result of this operation,” the release said, appearing to confirm a June 15 FAMa release, which said that around 20 “terrorists” were “neutralized” in a joint FAMa-Barkhane operation in the Akabar area of Ménaka.
A large quantity of resources including more than 20 motorcycles, armaments and “means of observation and communication” were seized, the French release said.
Two gendarmes, soldier killed in Mali
Two Malian gendarmes were killed by a mine explosion outside a military base and a soldier died in an ambush in the north of the country, the armed forces said.
The two gendarmes were killed on Sunday when an improvised explosive device exploded as they walked near the entrance of a military post in Sokolo in the central Segou region, Mali’s armed forces said.
In a separate incident in the north, an army patrol escorting civilians was ambushed between Niafounke and Tonka, around 100 km (62 miles) south of Timbuktu.
FAMa said one soldier was killed and another wounded in the exchange.
In 2012 a Tuareg separatist uprising against the state was exploited by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda who took key cities in the desert north of Mali.
France began its Operation Serval military intervention in its former colony early the next year, driving the jihadists from the towns, and the MINUSMA peacekeeping force was then established.
But the militant groups morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, and 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 Mali remain outside government control.
The French mission evolved in August 2014 into the current 4,500-strong Operation Barkhane, which has a mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the Sahel, including 2,700 soldiers in Mali to support poorly-equipped local military forces.
Troops deployed to Barkhane work alongside other international operations, including MINUSMA and the regional G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train and deploy up to 5,000 personnel.
Along with militant attacks and militia violence, Mali also struggles with intercommunal and ethnic clashes.
Earlier this month, an attack on Sobane Da village in the center of Mali killed at least 35 people in an ethnic Dogon enclave in the diverse Mopti region.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita appealed for calm after the attack sparked fears of a tit-for-tat cycle of ethnic killing.
With reporting from AFP