At least 13 soldiers from France's Barkhane force in Mali were killed when two helicopters collided during an operation against jihadists in the country's north, the French government said on Tuesday. The tragic accident occurred on Monday when the forces were engaging the Jihadists who had carried out a series of attacks in northern Mali in recent weeks, the office of French President Emmanuel Macron said.
"Thirteen of our soldiers died yesterday in Mali. They were engaged in a combat operation against terrorists. These thirteen heroes had only one goal - to protect us. I bow to their sacrifice and offer my condolences to their loved ones," President Macron said.
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.
Defence ministry sources said a Tiger attack helicopter collided with a larger Cougar military transport helicopter. It was the heaviest loss for the French army since the 1983 attack on the Drakkar building in Beirut, in which 58 paratroopers were killed. The French president "bows in front of the pain of their families and their loved ones and expresses his deepest condolences, and assures them of the unshakeable solidarity of the French nation," his office said.
(With inputs from PTI)