Three French soldiers have been killed in Libya, the defense ministry said Wednesday, as officials from more than 30 nations are gathering in Washington to plan the next steps in the fight against ISIS in the region.
“Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian regrets the loss of three French officers who died while on mission in Libya,” the ministry said in a statement without giving any details on the circumstances of their deaths.
It was the first confirmation that France has troops in the country where ISIS has rear bases.
Le Drian praised the “courage and devotion” of the slain soldiers and sent condolences to their families.
France had previously revealed that its warplanes were carrying out reconnaissance flights over Libya.
But Paris has never confirmed that it had special forces on the ground in the country, as reported by Le Monde daily and hinted at by the U.N.’s envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler.
Meanwhile, defense and foreign ministers from more than 30 nations will meet in Washington on Wednesday to discuss how they can accelerate the campaign and build on some of the momentum, particularly in Iraq.
The meeting of defense ministers at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington, D.C., will be the fourth time that U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has convened an anti-ISIS coalition meeting.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Carter will talk about the military campaign, and how it can be accelerated.
On Thursday, for the first time, Secretary of State John Kerry will host a joint meeting of defense and foreign ministers in the counter-ISIS coalition. They are expected to talk about the coordination of political and military efforts, including counter-terrorist financing, combating the flow of foreign fighters, and the stabilization of cities and towns that have been freed from ISIS control.
“We are succeeding on the ground in Iraq and Syria but we have a lot of work to do,” said Brett McGurk, the president’s special representative to the counter-ISIS coalition. “This is an enormous challenge that will be with us for years to come.”
He told reporters that the situation in Libya and a rise in the number of foreign fighters there will be one major focus of the meeting on Thursday.
“Libya is incredibly complicated to say the least,” he said, noting that until six months ago the country was without a functioning central government.
“We have some momentum, the discussion will be how to build on this momentum,” he added.