No fewer than Thirteen soldiers from France’s Barkhane force in Mali have been killed when two helicopters collided during an operation against jihadists in the country’s north.
The accident occurred on Monday evening while the forces were engaging the fighters who have staged a series of deadly strikes in northern Mali in recent weeks, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.
Defence ministry sources say the accident involved a Tiger attack helicopter and a larger Cougar military transport helicopter.
“The president hails with the greatest respect the memory of these soldiers… who lost their lives in an operation and died for France in the hard fight against terrorism in the Sahel,” it added in a statement.
Six officers and a master corporal were among the victims in the deadliest accident since France intervened in Mali in 2013 to drive back an intense Islamic insurgency.
The accident brings to 38 the number of French soldiers killed in Mali since the intervention began.
France has around 4,500 troops in the country as part of its Barkhane operation, which is primarily tasked with building up and training local security forces but also participates in operations against the insurgents.
An inquiry has been opened into the cause of the mid-air collision, Defence Minister Florence Parly said in a separate statement.