(AP) — Two French soldiers were killed when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in north-eastern Mali on Saturday, just days after three others died in similar fashion, the French presidency announced.
President Emmanuel Macron “learnt with great sadness” of the deaths of Sergeant Yvonne Huynh and Brigadier Loic Risser in the Menaka region, his office said in a statement.
Huynh, aged 33, was the first woman soldier sent to the Sahel region since the French operation began.
Risser was 24. Both were members of a regiment specialising in intelligence work.
According to the army, the latest deaths bring to 50 the number of French soldiers killed in Mali since France first intervened militarily in January 2013 to help drive back Islamist jihadists who had overrun parts of the west African country.
France’s Barkhane force numbers 5,100 troops spread across the arid Sahel region and has been fighting jihadist groups alongside soldiers from Mauritania, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, who together make up the G5 Sahel group.
“Their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device during an intelligence mission,” the French presidency said of Saturday’s incident.
Another soldier was injured in the blast but their life is not in danger, it added.
Three French Soldiers Killed on Anti-Islamist Operation https://t.co/PBa4RNAqLm
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) December 30, 2020
Macron affirmed France’s determination to continue its role in “the battle against terrorism”.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) has claimed responsibility for the earlier attack that killed three French soldiers in the centre of the poor Sahel state. Those deaths were also due to an army vehicle hitting an explosive device.
The group, the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, cited a string of reasons for the attack including the continuing French military presence in the region, cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published by a French newspaper and Macron’s defence of them in the name of freedom of expression.
Man Spits at French Police Officers, Calls Them ‘Dirty Whites’ https://t.co/BxzxBwTRYt
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) December 25, 2020