French Air Force engages Islamists in the Sahel


The French Air Force, using Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and Mirage 2000 combat jets, led the destruction of a large number of terrorists in the Sahel during a mission in support of Operation Barkhane.

The French defence ministry on 26 May said that the operation neutralised a large number of Islamic State terrorists, destroyed more than forty motorcycles, a pick-up, 30 AK-47 machine guns, one RPG-7 rocket launcher, a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun.

Operations took place on 14 and 15 May south of the Gourma region of Mali and involved French air assets, reconnaissance and attack helicopters from the Aerocombat Desert Tactical Group (GTD-A) and ground troops from the Desert Tactical Groups (GTDs).

On 14 May, a Reaper was used to identify the group of terrorists, along with several dozen motorcycles and suspicious people. The UAV crew then planned an air strike, which was carried out by a Mirage 2000D patrol, while several Tiger helicopters were also deployed to help neutralise the terrorists.

“We were already deployed when we were redirected to this operation. After being refuelled in flight, we went to the [combat] area. Our deployment made it possible to engage the enemy. This is the advantage of the strike component; we intervene with a lot of speed and a significant firepower,” said Mirage 2000D pilot Commander Nicolas.

The Reaper then detected another group of terrorists and these were subsequently neutralised, the French defence ministry said, and added that the Reaper played an essential role in the operation, contributing to the success obtained against armed terrorist groups. “The main role of the crew was to ensure the detection, classification, identification and coordination of strikes by air assets,” Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel, head of the Reaper detachment at Niamey air base said.

Led by the French military, in partnership with the G5 Sahel countries, Operation Barkhane was launched on 1 August 2014 to combat terrorism and insecurity in the Sahel. It brings together some 5 100 soldiers who operate in the Sahel region across Burkina-Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad.