French Helicopter Raid in Mali Kills Pilot at Start of Military Intervention

Thomas Boni Yayi, President of Benin and Chairperson of the African Union, supported France's decision to intervene. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ USAID photo

Thomas Boni Yayi, President of Benin and Chairperson of the African Union, supported France’s decision to intervene.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ USAID photo

PARIS. – The French intervention in Mali has claimed its first victim. Lieutenant Damien Boiteux of the 4th helicopter regiment special forces, from the southern city of Pau, was killed the afternoon of Friday January 11 in a raid against a terrorist group. According to the high command of the French military, Boiteux suffered damage to his femoral artery and died shortly after his transfer to a hospital in Mopti yesterday afternoon.

This was the first death of the operation “Serval,” aimed at stopping the Islamist forces from moving into Southern Mali. The French Ministry of Defense says the raid prevented their progression to the city of Mopti.

France answered a plea for help from the president of Mali, Dioncounda Traoré. This decision was applauded by the African Union, whose Chairperson Thomas Boni Yayi declared, “I’m over the moon. I absolutely want to express, in the name of the continent, our gratitude to the French republic, to its president, its government, to the whole of the French people, who could appreciate the gravity of the situation that prevails today in Mali and in the west-African zone.”

“Mali is facing aggression from terrorist elements coming from the North, of which the world now knows the brutality and the fanaticism,” François Hollande said in his address on Friday, “The country’s very existence is at risk.”

France had been a prominent voice in asking for an international response under Chapter VII of the United Nations charter but had not directly committed to an intervention until the Islamists reached Kona, a key city only 700 km from Bamako, the capital of Mali. Konna was recaptured from the Islamists on Friday January 11 after a collaboration of French, Nigerian, and Senegalese troops.

This new surge to the South led Paris to offer its help to the Malian army, who fought the last of the rebels yesterday. “We’re in control of the city. The whole city,” said a member of military Headquarters in Mopti.

The advance of the Islamists and the perspective of the Malian State being overrun are particularly critical prospects for France. The country not only has financial interests there, but also has close to 6000 citizens living in Mali, most of them working in the oil sector with the Total group.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he will meet with the heads of the National Assembly and the Senate on Monday to inform them of the situation. As per article 35 of the French constitution, the government must inform Parliament of foreign military operations and present the objectives within three days, as asked by the head of the UMP, Jean-François Copé.

The intervention has received unprecedented support from all sides of the political spectrum. Parti Socialiste (PS) First Secretary Harlem Désir called the intervention “courageous,” and Center former presidential candidate François Bayrou said, “it is legitimate that the national community and most of the opinions that compose it group up in face of this situation, of which we all know the extent and the gravity.”

François Fillon and Jean-François Copé expressed their support as well, saying it was “high time” the French military got involved. Even the Front National (FN) head Marine-Le Pen described the intervention as “legitimate” and also “paradoxical,” stressing the fact that the current rebellion can be seen as a backlash from Lybia. A notable exception to the nearly unanimous support is the Left party leader Mélanchon, who called the action “condemnable.”

Despite widespread support from both the political realm and the public, the timing of these events is tough for president Hollande. At the same time the first death occurred in Mali the day after the intervention began, news reached Paris of former French secret service agent and hostage Denis Allex believed to be shot dead in Somalia by his captors during a French rescue attempt. At least seven more French hostages are held in the region, detained by various Islamist groups.

Even though support was expressed by the United Kingdom and Germany, no offer of military assistance has yet been made by any European country. The United States declared they share France’s objectives and offered technical support, including intelligence and the use of the controversial drones. Countries neighboring Mali, including Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria, have also said they would be sending troops and specialists.


  1. […] by his captors in Somalia. The failed rescue attempt, carried out at the same time as an unrelated French mission in Malia, also resulted in the deaths of two French soldiers and 17 Islamist militants belonging to the […]

  2. […] geographically crucial Malian cities taken over by Al-Qaeda-linked rebels have been bombarded by French aerial attacks: Lere, Nampala, Douentza, and […]

  3. […] intervention in Mali, much has unfolded. With the first day of operations came the first causality, Lieutenant Damien Boiteux, who crashed his helicopter while participating in a terrorist column attack. Many more followed, […]

  4. […] is believed that the al-Qaeda affiliated group took the hostages in response to the French-led intervention in Mali earlier this week. The group, identifying itself as the Al-Mouthalimin Brigade, had demanded that […]

  5. […] When news that this coalition had made it to the cities of Konna and Mopti hit Paris, President François Hollande announced that France would directly intervene. […]

  6. […] Hollande announced the French intervention, he was basing his decisions on specific information: 200 vehicles were making their way to Bamako […]

  7. […] civilian deaths during the attack on Konna in the first hours of the intervention, to possible summary executions the Malian army is accused of having carried out, Hollande was not […]

  8. […] in the north and it called for an investigation on the death of civilians killed during the air raid on the first day of French intervention. Human Rights Watch also accused the Malian army of […]

  9. […] in 2010. His death is the first since the first day of the intervention, when a French helicopter pilot went missing and was announced […]

  10. […] French military intervened on January 11 with a deployment of about 4,000 French troops, declaring war on the Islamist extremists active in […]

  11. […] military across its African ex-colonies sprang to life in response. Special forces stationed in Burkina Faso launched initial strikes against the jihadists, mobilized […]

  12. […] military across its African ex-colonies sprang to life in response. Special forces stationed in Burkina Faso launched initial strikes against the jihadists, mobilized […]

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