Two helicopters collided during an operation against jihadists in Mali on Monday, killing 13 French soldiers.
The incident was confirmed in a statement issued by the French President Emanuel Macron’s office.
Macron said he was deeply saddened by the incident which is thought to be the worst loss of French life since the country first intervened in the ongoing Mali insurgency.
“These 13 heroes had only one goal: to protect us,” President Macron wrote in a tweet. “I bow to the pain of their loved ones and comrades.”
In 2013, France deployed thousands of troops to Mali after Islamist militants seized huge parts of the north. Mali’s army has since recaptured the territory but insecurity there continues and the violence has spread to other countries in the region.
France now has 4,500 troops deployed to support the forces of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad against Islamist militants.