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Thirteen French soldiers killed in helicopter collision during a combat operation against jihadists in Mali

Thirteen French soldiers killed in helicopter collision during a combat operation against jihadists in Mali

Published on November 27, 2019
Speech by Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic for a national tribute (Paris, December 2, 2019)


Freedom, alas, often carries the taste of spilled blood.
Our country’s history shows this. And last Monday’s dramatic events served as a tragic reminder of it.

Far from France, on November 25, 13 of our soldiers were killed.

The wind whipped the arid, ochre Sahel plain as commandos called for air back-up.
The enemy, pursued for several days in Liptako, had been spotted and fighting had begun. But in the treacherous steppe of southern Mali, dotted with prostrate acacia trees, impending nightfall would have made progress on the ground difficult.
Swift action had to be taken to deal the final death-blow.
In this theater as vast as Europe, dazzling speed must come from the sky.

Five helicopters - two Gazelles, one Cougar and two Tigres - took off from Ménaka and Gao, supported by a Mirage 2000 patrol from Niamey.
The manoeuvre was carried out: the Tigres and Gazelles went in search of the terrorists. The Cougar was ready to rescue ground forces.

Complete darkness.
Silence, broken only by the mechanical sound of the rotor blades.
Swirls of sand.

Suddenly, the deceptive tranquility of a moonless and starless night was shattered by two muffled explosions.
The Cougar and one of the two Tigres had just crashed into the ground.

Their crew, 13 of our bravest soldiers, 13 children of France, were killed outright.
They died on an operation for France.
They died to protect the people of the Sahel, for the security of their compatriots and for the freedom of the world.

For all of us here, gathered in this courtyard.
On behalf of the nation, I bow down before their sacrifice.
I bow down before the pain of the families.
Before the parents who are mourning a son.
The wives and partners who have lost a loved one.
Before the children who have been left orphaned by this tragedy, before unborn children whom this war has robbed of a father.

Let me assure our 13 soldiers’ brothers in arms of the entire country’s support.
Some are among us. All the others are continuing the fighting in the Sahel. Let me reiterate my confidence to them all, and their leaders.

We think of them at this time, as the mission continues unremittingly.

They lost 13 brothers in arms. Yet in Niamey, in Gao, in Ménaka, they stand tall alongside their comrades in the Sahel armed forces, which are also paying the price in blood. Committed as ever. United as ever. With no goal other than to fulfil their duty, as they have been doing in the Sahel for five years.

We are at their side, just as we are at the side of the army and the whole military and defense community.

Our 13 soldiers were killed.
Thirteen names.
Thirteen families.
Thirteen destinies.

Yes, 13 French destinies.
Thirteen faces, 13 lives given.
Thirteen men brought together by the fraternity of combat and training, on snowy peaks and beneath starry skies, and united forever in death.
Thirteen names that will be engraved tomorrow on the monument to those who have died for France on external operations. (...)

See your communes of Pau, Gap, Varces-Allières-et-Risset and Saint-Christol d’Albion, their elected representatives in this courtyard at Les Invalides, not only weighed down by the sorrow of your loss but also proud of your commitment, your courage, your sacrifice. See the mayors of the towns where you were born bearing the grief of a whole people. (...)

But those tears of sadness are mixed with hope and determination.
Hope in our young people, in our army.
Determination to ensure our Republic’s values prevail.

See these children of France who have come from the four corners of the country, from your towns and villages. Sometimes you may have crossed their paths.

So young, but so grateful for everything you accomplished.
So conscious, too, of what they owe you: their future, their security.
So conscious of the dreams you could not all fulfil and which they will pursue for you.

See before you these veterans and all the standard-bearers from our regions. Through their commitment and their example, through their presence, they remind us of what we owe our elders.
And they include you in a history, the nation’s history, whose threads intertwine with the history of our armed forces. (...)

Yes, soldiers, see the nation unite in the diversity of opinions and beliefs, goals and differences, around you, around the blue, white and red flags draped over your coffins.
Your colors. Our colors.
The colors of a free nation, always.
And united around the sacrifice of its children so that it may live free, strong and proud.

You were 13 soldiers, 13 who enlisted voluntarily.
Enlisted for an idea of France that deserves to be served wherever human freedom must be defended and wherever the nation decides.
A strong, modest, discreet commitment made public only by the ultimate sacrifice.
Far from the din of unnecessary words.
Voluntarily, because each one had chosen - alone, exercising his free will - to tread the whole path of the strength and honor of being a man.

So what we are paying tribute to today is not only the duty of each of those who, in their place, served in France’s armed forces, but also the clear-sighted and profound acceptance of that duty which makes French soldiers especially admirable citizens.

Soldiers! We shall stand together for our lives as a free people, achieved thanks to our armed forces, thanks to you.

Major [formerly Captain] Nicolas Mégard,
Major [formerly Captain] Benjamin Gireud,
Major [formerly Captain] Clément Frison-roche,
Major [formerly Captain] Romain Chomel de Jarnieu,
Captain [formerly Lieutenant] Pierre Bockel,
Captain [formerly Lieutenant] Alex Morisse,
Sergeant-Major [formerly Warrant Officer First Class] Julien Carette,
Warrant Officer Second Class [formerly Staff Sergeant] Jérémy Leusie,
Warrant Officer Second Class [formerly Staff Sergeant] Andreï Jouk,
Warrant Officer Second Class [formerly Staff Sergeant] Alexandre Protin,
Staff Sergeant [formerly Sergeant] Valentin Duval,
Staff Sergeant [formerly Sergeant] Antoine Serre,
Sergeant [formerly Corporal] Romain Salles de Saint Paul,

As head of the armed forces, I have decided to promote you each today to the next rank above.
In the name of the French Republic, I make you Chevaliers in the Ordre de la Légion d’honneur.

Long live the Republic!
Long live France!

Communique issued by the Presidency of the Republic (Paris - November 26, 2019)

The French President Emmanuel Macron is deeply saddened to announce the death of thirteen French soldiers in Mali in the evening of Monday, November 25, 2019, when their two helicopters crashed during a combat operation against jihadists.

The President pays his deepest respects to the memory of these army soldiers—six officers, six NCOs and a corporal—, who died for France in harsh fighting during an operation against terrorism in the Sahel. He shares the grief of their families and close friends, extends to them his sincerest condolences and assures them of the nation’s unfailing solidarity.

The President expresses his wholehearted support to their comrades in the French army and other forces. He wishes to pay tribute to the courage of the French soldiers engaged in the Sahel and their determination to continue their mission. He assures them of his total confidence.

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