The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, speaking on Thursday about the death of 13 French soldiers in Mali this week in a counter-terror operation, has ordered his military to assess its operations against Islamist militants in West Africa.
Macron, in his first public address since the collision of two helicopters that killed 13 French troops in the desert region of the Sahel, was emotional and on point in his remarks.
“France is acting in the Sahel on everyone’s behalf,” he stated.
“Our mission there is important. Nevertheless, the situation we face compels me today to examine all our strategic options.”
The French have been the biggest coalition contributors to the fight in the Sahel region of West Africa. They are leading the way in the battle against ISIS, a local al-Qaeda offshoot and other Islamic militants in the region. The French have 4500 troops in the Sahel, far more than any other Western Nation.
Now Macron is receiving calls from the left demanding that the French withdraw their troops, comparing their experience there to the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Other French politicians disagree stating that the Sahel and Africa are close enough to France’s southern border to be an issue if Islamic terrorists run free. But right now the country is reeling after the deaths of the 13 troops in the helicopter crash when a Tiger attack helo collided with a Cougar transport chopper.
Macron’s case wasn’t made any easier when General Francois Lecointre, the Chief of Staff of France’s armed forces, stated that a military victory in the Sahel may be out of the question. In an interview on the France Inter-Radio, he said that while the French presence in the Sahel “was useful, good, and necessary… we will never achieve a definitive victory.”
This caused Macron to reconsider France’s mission and to state on Thursday that French presence there is important and necessary but that France is forced to look at what options are available in the long-term considering what has transpired.
“All options are open,” he added.
The Islamic State group’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) claimed responsibility for Monday’s crash. They claim that their fighters ambushed a French convoy and then fired upon the helicopters that came in support of the troops. “After staggering in flight, it then collided with another helicopter, killing 13 Crusaders,” the ISWAP released in a statement that was posted to the internet.
The French adamantly denied the claim that the choppers were under fire. It is totally false, General Lacointre said. “There was no withdrawal of an aircraft in the face of fire from the jihadists.”
“The truth is that there was a collision during a very complex combat operation,” he said, adding that “the French army is telling the truth: we owe it to our soldiers and to the families of our dead colleagues.”
The black boxes from both helicopters have been recovered and French officials are investigating what happened.