French soldier killed in Mali militant clash

© Reuters French coldier

By Christian Lowe

PARIS (Reuters) – A French serviceman was killed early on Friday in a clash with an armed militant group in Mali, French officials said.

More than 50 French soldiers have died in the region since Paris deployed a counterterrorism force in 2013 to drive back Islamist militant groups that had seized cities and towns in northern Mali.

According to a statement from the French defence ministry, the soldier who was killed, Maxime Blasco, was part of a French unit deployed to a forested area near Mali’s border with Burkina Faso.

Their mission was to track down a suspected militant group that had earlier been spotted by a drone. The unit was supported by two attack helicopters and a surveillance drone, according to the statement.

Armed militants engaged the unit at close range and Blasco was shot by a sniper. The soldier quickly died from his wounds. The gunman who shot Blasco was killed, the ministry said.

French forces earlier this month said they had killed the leader of the West African affiliate of Islamic State in a drone strike in northern Mali.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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