Paris–French President François Hollande announced on Wednesday that three French soldiers were killed in Libya, in the first official confirmation that the European country has troops in the war-torn North African state.
“At this moment we are carrying out dangerous intelligence operations [in Libya],” Hollande said in a speech. “Three of our soldiers, who were involved in these operations, have been killed in a helicopter accident,” he added.
In a statement released on Wednesday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the soldiers died “while on mission” in the North African country. The minister paid tribute to the “courage and devotion” of French military, who carry out “dangerous missions to fight terrorism.”
French government Spokesperson Stephane Le Foll confirmed on Wednesday that French Special Forces were engaged in counter-terrorism operations in Libya.
A militia known as the Defending Benghazi Brigade has claimed responsibility for shooting down the helicopter on Sunday outside Benghazi, which lies in the city’s northeast.
A high-ranking Libyan military official told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that French troops were assisting the Libyan soldiers in collecting intelligence information on the location of extremist groups in Benghazi. He also rejected claims that French troops were participating in armed battles launched by the Libyan Army to liberate Benghazi.
In February, French newspaper Le Monde said that French special forces and intelligence commandos were engaged in covert operations against the so-called ISIS militants in Libya in conjunction with the United States and Britain.
The newspaper said that Hollande had authorized “unofficial military action” in the conflict-ridden North African state.
Le Monde described the European country’s involvement in the Libyan conflict as “France’s secret war in Libya”, adding that it involved occasional targeted strikes against leaders of the ultra-radical Islamist group.
At the time, the French defense ministry declined comment on the substance of Le Monde’s story, but a source close to Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he had ordered an investigation into “breaches of national defense secrecy” to identify the sources of the report.