The Amazing Way French Special Forces Saved One of Their Own

David Axe

Key point: The rescue was impressive and very daring.

In January 2013, a heavy French force struck Islamic militants who had been advancing across Mali. Paris deployed 4,000 troops plus tanks, helicopters and warplanes.

Operation Serval, which France’s Western and African allies strongly supported, routed the militants. And a year and a half later, Paris expanded the operation—and renamed it Barkhane—to include counterterrorism missions across the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa, including Niger and Chad.

Six years later the fighting continues. Sometimes in dramatic fashion and often involving helicopters, as was the case on June 14, 2019 when militants shot down over Mali an SA342 Gazelle helicopter belonging to Aviation Légère de l'Armée de Terre -- French army aviation.

“Both pilots were heavily wounded but were able to make a controlled crash-landing,” Scramble reported. “A third crew member, a commando sniper, with only minor injuries was able to extract the heavily wounded pilots from the helicopter.”

The Gazelle, deployed in support of Operation Barkhane, was shot down by jihadists near the border of Mali and Niger during a patrol mission near Liptako. The pilots and French ground troops from Niger and Mali got involved in serious fighting with militants that are believed to be part of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

The SA342 that gave overhead support received multiple hits in the engine compartment by small-caliber weapons … Subsequently, an engine fire started that resulted in the loss of power. An autorotation landing in brown-out conditions followed, but due to its low altitude this did not work out properly.

Nearby, an ALAT Tiger attack helicopter was also involved in the fight, its crew decided to rush to the crash site to give top cover for the three crew members, at the risk of being shot, too.

Upon arrival at the scene, the Tiger crew discovered that the pilots were seriously wounded and they decided to land. With the help of the sniper commando, they strapped both pilots to the outside of the Tiger and quickly returned to base to allow for immediate treatment of the airmen.

The sniper commando ... remained at the crash site and destroyed the Gazelle with explosives. He was picked up by another helicopter soon after, and extracted to a safe location.

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