A French Army Gazelle helicopter that was forced to land during combat against militants in Mali earlier this month was hit by enemy fire, it has emerged, with the crew surviving with injuries.
The aircraft was hit by 7.62 mm machinegun fire on 14 June whilst taking part in an operation against militants near Liptako, Mali, on the border between Mali and Niger. More than 20 militants were killed in the operation against Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
The French Ministry of Defence said the operation began on 13 June and was a collaboration between French and Malian military personnel working under Operation Barkhane, with support from Niger’s military.
Helicopter-deployed forces, supported by a Tiger attack helicopter and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle, engaged terrorists in a wooded area, with fighting continuing through to the next day, when the Gazelle was hit. It caught fire and lost engine power, forcing the crew to land. The pilot and commander were injured whilst a commando sniper received only minor injuries and was able to pull the crew from the aircraft.
The two injured pilots were strapped to the outside of the Tiger attack helicopter, near the landing gear, and evacuated. The sniper then destroyed the damaged Gazelle to stop it falling into enemy hands and was then exfiltrated by another helicopter, according to Radio France International.
The three wounded soldiers were subsequently sent to a military hospital in France and are apparently out of danger.
After the Gazelle was shot down, a Mirage 2000 fighter carried out a series of air strikes on militant positions whilst Malian soldiers deployed in armoured vehicles. Weapons, motorcycles and communications equipment was recovered.