Combat assets including French air force Dassault Mirage 2000Ds and Rafales have attacked anti-government militants in Mali, as part of an action intended to defend the nation's civilian population.

Launched on 11 January, following a request from the authorities in Malian capital Bamako, France's Operation "Serval" began with Aerospatiale Gazelles from its army's 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment striking four vehicles used by militants near the town of Konna. One pilot died of wounds sustained during the first engagement, the French defence ministry says.

The security situation in Mali had worsened markedly prior to the intervention, with al-Qaeda and other militants having made recent advances in the north of the country. The UN Security Council on 10 January warned that Konna had fallen to "terrorist and extremist groups", and said the deterioration posed "a direct threat to international peace and security".

 Mirage 2000D v Mali - French MoD

EMA/French defence ministry

Four of six French air force Mirage 2000Ds, which were already based in N'Djamena in Chad (above), also attacked targets in northern Mali overnight on 11-12 January, while the army also readied 200 ground troops for insertion into the Malian capital using Dassault-Breguet C160 Transall and Lockheed Martin C-130H transports.

Initial air operations were supported by two Mirage F1 reconnaissance aircraft and, initially, three Boeing C-135 tankers, also located in Chad. Four Rafale B strike aircraft also flew long-range attack sorties during the weekend from Saint-Dizier air base in France, before also landing in N'Djamena. They were accompanied by two more of France's C-135 tankers.

 Rafale v Mali - French MoD

EMA/French defence ministry

Speaking at a 12 January press conference, defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: "We will continue these activities as long as necessary. Our commitment to the fight against terrorism is complete. France will do everything it can to help Malians fight jihadist groups who have gone on the offensive in recent days."

There are about 5,000 French nationals currently in Mali. The UK government also pledged its support to French forces, allocating two Boeing C-17 strategic transports from its Royal Air Force's 99 Sqn to assist its counterpart in flying supplies and armoured vehicles to Africa.

Source: Flight International