Thirteen french soldiers killed in Mali in a helicopter crash

(B2) Thirteen french soldiers have died during a military operation in Mali on Monday night, 25th November 2019, announced the Élysée in a press statement published this Tuesday morning. Six officers, six noncommissioned officers, et one master corporal have died in the crash of their two helicopters « during a combat operation against jihadists » in the malian Liptako

They belonged primarily to the 5e régiment d’hélicoptères de combat (RHC) of Pau and the 4e régiment de chasseurs of Gap (part of the 27e BIM brigade d’infanterie de montage (see frame)). It is one of the most serious losses in simultaneous number for France since the ambush of Uzbin in Afghanistan, in 2008, which took the lives of ten soldiers.

A crash between two helicopters

Based on the first elements given by the defence staff, it was a collision between the two engines – a Tigre and a Cougar – « which where at very low altitude that would the origin of the accident ». The two engines participated in « a support operation for the commandos of the Barkhane force in contact with terrorist armed groups ».

An operation in the malian Liptako

Engaged on the ground for a few days already, the french military commandos were « tracking a group of terrorists, identified a few hours prior, which were moving with pick-ups and motocycles ». Very rapidly, the helicopters as well as a Mirage 2000 patrol were called to the rescue.

An aerial support

The Cougar helicopter, with six commandos de montagne and one chief of mission on board, was engaged « to coordinate the entire ressources, while also being in mesure to intervene to ensure “the immediate extraction” of an element on the ground ».

The collision around 19h40

Around 19h40, « during a manoeuvre in order to prepare the engagement with the enemy », the Cougar helicopter and the Tigre collided, « crashing a short distance from each other ». Without letting any chance to its occupants. No soldier could be saved. « A rescue and security operation in the accident zone is ongoing. A wide number of ressources of the Barkhane force are still engaged » has indicated the Defence staff. The exact circumstances of the collision are not yet known.

The complete confidence of President Macron

The president of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, wanted to « commend with the utmost respect the memory of these soldiers of the Ground Army […] who have fallen during an operation and died for France in the hardest combat against terrorism in the Sahel ». He also commends « the bravery of the french soldiers engaged in the Sahel and their determination to continue their mission » and assured the soldiers deployed in the Barkhane operation of « his complete confidence ». When it comes to the minister of the Army, Florence Parly, she « assured the military families that the military institution is by their side in this hardship ».

The entire Europe is in mourning

The European Union gave its « most sincere condolences to the families of the french soldiers, engaged in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel » according to the spokesperson of Federica Mogherini, the High representative of the EU. The president of the European commission Jean-Claude Juncker also « paid tribute » to the thirteen soldiers, stating that  « it is the entire Europe who is in mourning because […] in Mali as is the case elsewhere, it is the French army who defends the honour and the security of Europe », announced his spokesperson on Tuesday at noon. « We share the pain of all French people » declared the president elect of the next Commission and also former German minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen, in the afternoon. « I know the true value and importance of the work French troops are doing to fight terrorism, for the people of Mali as much as for the people of Europe ».


Updated during the afternoon with the European Union reactions

Thirteen soldiers fallen on the battlefield

The thirteen soldiers who died during combat are the two crew members of the Tigre du 5e Régiment d’hélicoptères de combat de Pau (5e RHC), the five crew members of the Cougar (5e RHC also), the four operators of the Groupement commandos montagne (GCM) du 4e Régiment de chasseurs de Gap (4e RCH), an operator GCM du 93e Régiment d’artillerie de montagne (93e RAM) and an operator GCM du 2e Régiment étranger du génie (2e REG).

The minister of the Army Florence Parly gave, in the press statement, their identities that B2 therefore allows itself to give you :

  • Le capitaine Nicolas MÉGARD, du 5e Régiment d’hélicoptères de combat de Pau
  • Le capitaine Benjamin GIREUD du 5e Régiment d’hélicoptères de combat de Pau
  • Le capitaine Clément FRISONROCHE du 5e Régiment d’hélicoptères de combat de Pau
  • Le lieutenant Alex MORISSE du 5e Régiment d’hélicoptères de combat de Pau
  • Le lieutenant Pierre BOCKEL du 5e Régiment d’hélicoptères de combat de Pau
  • L’adjudant-chef Julien CARETTE du 5e Régiment d’hélicoptères de combat de Pau
  • Le brigadier-chef Romain SALLES DE SAINT PAUL du 5e Régiment d’hélicoptères de combat de Pau
  • Le capitaine Romain CHOMEL DE JARNIEU du 4e Régiment de chasseurs de Gap
  • Le maréchal des logis-chef Alexandre PROTIN du 4e Régiment de chasseurs de Gap
  • Le maréchal des logis Antoine SERRE du 4e Régiment de chasseurs de Gap
  • Le maréchal des logis Valentin DUVAL du 4e Régiment de chasseurs de Gap
  • Le maréchal des logis-chef Jérémy LEUSIE du 93e Régiment d’artillerie de montagne de Varces
  • Le sergent-chef Andreï JOUK du 2e Régiment étranger de génie de Saint-Christol


The Czechs are taking the command of EUTM Mali

(B2) Already participating in EUTM Mali since the beginning, the Czechs are moving up. They will be taking command of the EU training mission of the Malian army next year

The Czech contingent at EUTM Mali in October during the ceremony of medals presentation (credit : Czech Army)

General Aleš Opata, Chief of the Army Staff, confirmed it on Wednesday (20th November) at the annual meeting of the Czech command. « One of the priorities of the Czech army remains missions abroad ».

Coming after the Portuguese
The Czechs are expected to take command of the mission deployed in Mali in June 2020 (according to our sources). They will take over from the Portuguese, who will take over in December from the Austrians currently in command. Brigadier General Frantisek Ridzak, currently the Director of information and communication systems for the army, will become the head of the mission. And stay there for six months. This is the first time that a military mission/operation on African soil has been commanded by an officer from a Central European country, showing Prague’s significant commitment in this area.

A certain political consensus
In the Czech Republic, this effort is supported by both the Head of Government and the Head of State. In the context of local politics this step is a big success. « International terrorism remains a global threat », President Miloš Zeman told officers yesterday, marking his « refusal to withdraw troops from the NATO mission in Afghanistan ». I am « very happy that our army is active in foreign missions » mentioned Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.

A continuous Czech presence
For the Czechs, Mali’s terrain is not new. They have been there since February 2013, meaning since the beginning of the mission, and performing an essential function: the protection of bases (Bamako and Koulikoro), providing armed escorts for individuals, as well as representing the rapid reaction force, along with training the members of the
Malian armed forces, particularly in VIP protection missions.

A contingent of 120 soldiers
Their presence is not symbolic, as there are currently 120 Czech soldiers in the mission. According to the latest relief, they for the most part belong to the 72nd Mechanised Battalion of Přáslavice. This unit is used to delicate missions : a detachment is coming back from Bagram in Afghanistan where it was responsible for securing the NATO base with Georgians, Americans and Afghans.

Acquiring an African experience
For almost half of them, however, this is their first deployment abroad. They are « coming to Africa to gain valuable experience » explains Captain Marek Maxim Švancara, media officer in the Czech army. Unlike the missions in Afghanistan, and even more so in Europe, they will have to « face a wider range of tasks, higher temperatures and humidity », not to mention the « possibility of tropical diseases, increased language requirements, as well as more
rustic living conditions ». A useful African test.

The challenge is no small one
The Czechs will have to ensure both the continuity of the missions and their evolution, according to what will be decided by the EU Defence Ministers, following the strategic review that has just begun (to read : Sahel. Une inquiétude européenne de plus en plus accrue. Faut-il changer le logiciel d’EUTM Mali). The challenge is to “harden” the training as well as to provide some mentoring, moving outside Bamako (the mission HQ) and
Koulikoro (the training centre) if necessary. This hardening could complement the special forces operation (to read : Plusieurs pays européens s’engagent ou songent à s’engager au Mali (opération Takuba)).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also : Un ‘surge’ pour les missions PSDC au Sahel et en Somalie. EUTM Mali et EUNAVFOR Atalanta réorientées ? (FR)

A European special task-force inside Barkhane. Working in (slow) progress

(B2) In order to support the operation of ‘Opération Barkhane’ in the Sahel (Mali, Burkina Faso), France has asked a dozen of European countries to provide them with some special forces. But the answers are late

Forces spéciales belges en entraînement au Sénégal (crédit : / Archives B2)

Objective: mentoring

The objective is to have a group of a few hundred soldiers able to deploy in different places of Mali to accompany the Sahelian armed forces after having trained them. It’s about doing what is called in the operational jargon ‘mentoring’. This would allow the French forces to concentrate on other geographical areas, to track terrorist armed groups.

An appeal to the European Special Forces

The idea had already been mentioned by Minister Florence Parly in front of the special forces in Pau in mid-June. “If the Europeans, who are directly concerned, do not do it, who will?” she wondered, referring to “a project that brings together special forces from different countries to support the efforts of our special forces, in the Sahel for example”.  She had been optimistic. “The feedback is encouraging and I’m hopeful this project will prosper” she said.

Radio silence on the advances

Since then, we do not seem to have made decisive progress. And, in front of the ‘Université d’été de la Défense’ (summer school of defence) in Avord (near Bourges), Friday (September 13), the minister was careful not to mention this subject. No one, by the way, ventures to put forward a date for setting up this force. Internal consultation processes in each country are underway, we are assured. But the unstable political situation in many countries makes it very complicated (1).

Several EI2 countries consulted

The list of countries consulted itself remains secret. “There is no need to put pressure on the countries concerned” says one official. But, according to our information, the Netherlands and Estonia were very specifically asked to provide a few dozen soldiers each, as well as Spain, Denmark and the United Kingdom and other countries participating in the European Intervention Initiative (EI2) (2). The goal is to have a group of 400-450 soldiers.

A minimum threshold of 200 people to be effective

In terms of tangible commitment, for now, it seems quite far from the goal. And yet, “to have a real effect, it must have 200-250 people” said a senior officer to B2. Below that number, it will not be possible to have a specialised and autonomous force. The only solution will be to integrate external contributions to the Barkhane force, as is currently the case for the fifty or so Estonian soldiers or British helicopters.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Government in current affairs in Belgium, looking for a majority in Spain, resulting from a reversal of alliance in Italy, plagued by internal dissensions in the United Kingdom or with a question mark in Germany. Not to mention the governmental changes following a general election, as in Finland or Estonia.
  2. NB: Officially this idea is not from the EI2. “Do not associate with the EI2 what it is not” says a very good connoisseur of the subject to B2. The objective of the initiative is not operations or having an operational force, “but anticipation, strategic thinking, the sharing of analyses”.