France will not turn its back on the fight against terrorism after thirteen French soldiers were killed during a combat operation in Mali, Defence Minister Florence Parly said yesterday.
“We receive valuable support from our European allies and join forces to protect Europe from the scourge of terrorism”, Parly told a press conference. “We stand tall, united, resilient. It is this solidarity which strengthens us, which allows us to continue the fight,” the minister added.
The French soldiers were killed as they swooped in at nightfall to support ground forces engaged in combat with Islamist militants. It was the biggest loss of French troops in a single day since an attack in Beirut 36 years ago when 58 soldiers died.
The ground commandos had been tracking the band of militants through harsh terrain for several days before making contact on Monday. As night fell, an intense gun-fight erupted and aerial reinforcements were called in to pursue the militant fighters.
The collision between a Tiger attack helicopter and a Cougar multipurpose helicopter occurred shortly after darkness had descended over the barren region where Islamic State is active, Armies Chief of Staff General Francois Lecointre told a joint news conference with the armed forces minister.
Two explosions were heard and the aircraft hit the ground a short distance apart. There were no survivors. Monday’s deaths bring the number of French soldiers killed in combat in the Sahel region since 2013 to 38, officials said.