PARIS (AP) — Two members of a French counter-terrorism force in Mali were killed on Wednesday when their armored vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device in a border region with Niger, authorities said.

French President Emmanuel Macron's office said a soldier and an officer were killed in the explosion. A statement by Defense Minister Florence Parly said the troops "dead in combat" were part of a "vast operation" patrolling the border region with Niger. It did not specify the exact locality.

The minister identified the victims as Emilien Mougin and Timothee Dernoncourt, from an armored regiment based in Valence but members of Operation Barkhane, an anti-terrorism force operating in the Sahel region of west Africa.

Islamic extremists and traffickers frequently cross or hide out in border regions between Mali and Niger and between Mali and Burkina Faso. It was not known who planted the explosive device.


Operation Barkhane, the 4,000-strong counterterrorism force started in 2014, is meant to fight extremist groups in the west African Sahel region, which also includes Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania. About 1,000 French soldiers are in Mali. The Barkhane troops are backed by fighter planes, drones and helicopters. Barkhane replaced the troops of a 2013 intervention in Mali to rout an al-Qaida affiliate in the north. Surviving fighters spread out across the region.

Macron praised the "courage" of the French soldiers and their determination to continue their mission, "which allows them to strike serious blows against the enemy."


This story has been corrected to reflect that there are 1,000 French military in Mali and 4,000 in the full Operation Barkhane.