An RAF Chinook flying in support of French forces in Mali (RAF Photo)
An RAF Chinook flying in support of French forces in Mali (RAF Photo)

During a French army counter-terror operation in Mali on April 2, an improvised explosive device destroyed an armored vehicle in the group. The French Army employed an Airbus Tiger attack helicopter and an Airbus NH90 Caimane transport helicopter in the immediate aftermath of the attack, which killed Marc Laycouras, a French army doctor.

The armored vehicle “operating in the Gourma region of Mali was struck by the explosion of an explosive device,” according to the French army. “A medical team participating in the operation immediately intervened to take charge of the vehicle crew, [and the] force secured the area of ​​action using units deployed on the ground, supported by a Tiger helicopter, without detecting an enemy [forces]. Very soon after this initial care, two soldiers were evacuated using a Caiman helicopter to the French military surgical center deployed in Gossi.”

Airbus CEO Bruno Even visited company-built helicopters in Mali recently and said that “the importance and urgency of their mission depend on the best level of support on our part.”

Helicopters have been a significant element of the French army’s counter-terror operations in Mali since Operation Barkhane — named after crescent-shaped dunes in the Sahara Desert — began in August 2014. Some 22 helicopters and 4,500 personnel have supported the operation. In addition, three Royal Air Force HC Mk5 Chinooks arrived in Mali in July last year to transport supplies and personnel for French and other military forces. The Boeing [BA] Chinooks, equipped with advanced avionics and the Boeing Digital Automatic Flight Control System, have helped to sustain French combat operations and to keep troops off the roads, which are vulnerable to improvised explosive devices, according to the RAF.

French forces have also used drones in Operation Barkhane. In February, a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drone and helicopters killed 11 militants and a militant leader, Yahia Abou Hamman, in the Timbuktu region of Mali, according to the French army.

Led by the French, Operation Barkhane also counts the G5 Sahel countries as participants: Mali, Burkina-Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.

The French army has recently expanded operations in Mali. While the forces have mainly operated in the Liptako region since November 2017, operations expanded to the Gourma region since January to establish an advanced operational base and conduct operations in connection with the Malian armed forces and Burkinabe.