November 27, 2019 / 12:48 PM / 13 days ago

Timeline: France's efforts to combat Islamist militants in Mali

(Reuters) - Thirteen French soldiers died in Mali when their helicopters collided in the dark on Tuesday as they hunted for Islamist militants, highlighting the human cost to France of leading efforts to drive insurgents from the region.

Here is a timeline detailing France’s recent involvement in the region.

April 2012 -  A loose alliance of ethnic Tuareg separatists and Islamist militants seize control of the northern two-thirds of Mali. 

January 2013 - Islamist rebels push south, threatening to overrun Mali government forces. French President Francois Hollande sends 2,000 ground troops to help beat back the rebels, who scatter in the northern desert.

April 2013 - The U.N. Security Council approves a 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA.

August 2014 - France launches Operation Barkhane, in which some 3,000 French troops operate out of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. Barkhane expands the 1,700-troop deployment in Mali to a broader counter-terrorism force in the Sahel.

May 2015 - Jihadi leader Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui pledges allegiance to Islamic State. His group comes to be known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). 

June 2015 - An alliance of Tuareg-led rebels and the Malian government sign a peace deal meant to draw a line under a 2012 uprising and allow the authorities to focus on tackling Islamist militants, but the accord has yet to be fully implemented.

November 2015 - Islamist gunmen attack the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in the capital Bamako, killing 22 people.

March 2017 - Mali’s main jihadist groups merge to form Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), an al Qaeda affiliate under the leadership of Tuareg jihadist Iyad Ag-Ghali.

May 2017 - Newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron says Operation Barkhane “will only stop when there is no more Islamist terrorism in the region”.

November 2017 - The G5 Sahel - a taskforce comprising army units from Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania - undertakes its first operation. France backs it with an eye towards eventually reducing its troops in the area. But G5 Sahel has been dogged by a lack of resources and poor coordination.

May 2019 - French special forces rescue two French hostages kidnapped in Benin and held in Burkina Faso. Two French soldiers are killed in the night-time raid.

November 2019 - Protesters outside Bamako burn a French flag in anger over jihadist attacks in central and northern Mali.

November 2019 - Thirteen French soldiers die when their helicopters collide, the biggest loss of French troops in a single day since 58 were killed in a 1983 attack in Beirut.

Compiled by Aaron Ross and Alexandra Zavis; Editing by Gareth Jones

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