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French army deploys drone strike for first time in Mali operation

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President Macron says 40 jihadists killed, delivering ‘heavy blow’ to Islamist group

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A French soldier of the Serval operation in Mali stands in front of a Harfang drone at the French army base in Niamey. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images

France’s military has said it carried out a drone strike for the first time, during operations in Mali in which 40 alleged terrorists were killed.

On Saturday, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, announced that French forces had “neutralised” 33 jihadists in the central Malian region of Mopti, in an operation that had started the previous night.

In a statement on Monday, the French military command said the drone strike took place during a follow-up operation on Saturday in which a further seven jihadist fighters were killed.

As French commandos were searching the combat zone in Ouagadou forest, 90 miles from the town of Mopti, “they were attacked by a group of terrorists on motorbikes”, the statement said. A Reaper drone and a French Mirage 2000 patrol opened fire to support the ground troops.

“This is the first operational strike by an armed drone,” the statement said, confirming an earlier report published in the specialist blog Le Mamouth.

The strike came two days after the French army announced it had finished testing the remotely piloted drones for armed operations. It has three drones, based near Niamey, the capital of Niger.

The operation at the weekend was in an area controlled by the Katiba Macina, a ruthless Islamist group founded by the radical Mopti preacher Amadou Koufa.

Two Malian gendarmes who had been held hostage were freed, and French troops seized a number of armed vehicles, motorbikes and weaponry, “delivering a very heavy blow” to the jihadists, according to Monday’s statement.

France previously said it had killed 25 jihadists in two operations in the Sahel this month.

Last month, 13 French soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash as they hunted jihadists in the north of Mali – the biggest single-day loss for the French military in nearly four decades.

France has had a 4,500-member force fighting jihadists in the fragile, sprawling Sahel since 2013. Forty-one soldiers have died.

The Guardian

 

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