- France - French military - Mali - unrest
French pilots in Mali doing battle from the sky
As fighting intensifies in northern Mali, the aerial support that French-led forces provide in the battle against Islamist rebels is paramount. FRANCE 24 meets the pilots in charge of the Mirage fighter jets at Bamako’s Airbase 101.
Since French-led forces launched a military campaign against Islamist rebels in northern Mali in January, fighting in the desert region of Kidal has intensified.
Supporting the French and African troops on the ground is a squadron of French air force pilots, providing aerial back-up in a fleet of Mirage 2000 fighter jets from Airbase 101, located around 10km from the Malian capital of Bamako.
The pilots have racked up scores of missions in little over seven weeks and on Sunday the squadron surpassed its 1000th hour of flight time since the mission’s debut, indicative of the intensive rhythm its servicemen face.
On most days they head to the far north of the country, a flight of about an hour and a half, remaining in radio contact with ground forces to keep abreast of friendly positions.
Operations have concentrated on the area surrounding the Ifoghas Mountains, where battles have raged in the past few weeks, and in which a third French soldier was killed as recently as Saturday.
French forces met little resistance during the initial offensive that drove out the Islamists, who had seized control of the country's vast desert north last year.
Now, however, they are facing a guerrilla campaign that includes sudden raids, suicide attacks and land mines.