France has for the first time conducted an air strike with one of its Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles in Mali, days after guided bombs were added to the aircraft.
The French military said the strike took place after an operation during the night of 20/21 December that saw French troops neutralising 33 jihadists in the central Malian region of Mopti. The Reaper strike took place on 21 December during a follow-up operation, killing seven fighters. A Mirage 2000 was also used to support ground troops.
French Reapers carried out a firing campaign from Niamey air base in Niger between 15 and 17 December, with four evaluation drops carried out using GBU-12 laser-guided bombs.
France operates three Reaper block 1 UAVs from Niamey and two more from Cognac.
“The armed drones will considerably improve the security of our soldiers on the ground and will strengthen our means in the face of an increasingly fleeting enemy (…) The pressure on armed terrorist groups will only be greater,” said French defence minister Florence Parly in December.
France’s Reapers are first being armed with four GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, already fitted to the Mirage 2000s deployed in the Sahel, and then towards the end of 2020 with Hellfire air-to-ground missiles.