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US troop injured, French soldier killed in mortar attack in west Africa

U.S. forces participate in a site assessment alongside French forces in Timbuktu, Mali, March 19, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel Garcia)
January 27, 2022

A French soldier was killed and a U.S. service member was injured in a mortar attack in the west African nation of Mali on Sunday.

The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) disclosed the service member’s injury in a statement to the Stars and Stripes on Wednesday. It was not clear what branch of service the service member was a part of and AFRICOM did not reveal their name or unit information.

AFRICOM said the service member was airlifted to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Sunday. The medical center is a U.S. military-operated hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.

The Associated Press previously identified the French soldier killed in the attack as 24-year-old artilleryman Alexandre Martin. Nine other French service members reportedly sustained minor injuries in the attack, which targeted a French military camp near the city of Gao that served as a counter-insurgency base.

French President Emmanuel Macron saluted the French soldier’s service in a statement on Sunday. In his statement, Macron also emphasized “France’s determination to continue the fight against terrorism in the region, alongside its partners.”

French forces have been deployed in Mali since 2013. The French first entered the country at the request of the Malian interim government and launched its military campaign, known as Operation Serval, to beat back Islamic extremist insurgents in the north of the country. The insurgency includes affiliates of Al Qaeda and an ISIS affiliate known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (IS-GS).

The French military intervention has continued since 2014 under the name Operation Barkhane, and now includes military operations in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger.

A small contingent of U.S. troops provides support to the French counter-insurgency campaign in Mali and the wider counter-insurgency across the African Sahel region, which Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger are part of.

“U.S. AFRICOM supports French efforts in the region by routinely sharing assets such as medical evacuation, logistics support, [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], and air refueling support,” AFRICOM said.

AFRICOM did not specify how many U.S. troops are currently deployed in the Sahel region.

The U.S. Special Forces troops ambushed in Tongo Tongo, Niger in October 2017 were deployed in support of Operation Barkhane and the wider counter-insurgency in the Sahel.

The French-led military efforts in Mali have continued despite multiple military coups in the country in recent years.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported Denmark would withdraw its forces, which have supported the French-led military mission in Mali.

“Last night, the coup generals (in Mali) sent out a public statement where they reiterated that Denmark is not welcome,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said. “That we will not accept. We have therefore decided, after consultations in the foreign policy committee — and there is backing there — that we pull our troops out.”

Kofod did not provide a precise timeline for when Danish forces would leave Mali.