PARIS (AP) — France paid homage Monday to 13 soldiers killed while fighting Islamic State-affiliated extremists in Mali, with their coffins draped in the French tricolor at a solemn ceremony in Paris.
“Freedom, alas, often carries the taste of spilt blood,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, who led the ceremony. “In the nation’s name, I bow to their sacrifice.”
The soldiers were killed instantly when Cougar and Tiger helicopters they were in collided while flying at low altitude on a moonless night, during a chase of extremists across the Malian Sahel, the arid strip south of the Sahara Desert.
Macron, dressed in black, read out the soldiers’ names and pinned medals to cushions on their coffins.
The military funeral at the gold-domed Invalides monument, a former military hospital that houses Napoleon’s tomb, was France’s biggest in decades, attended by veterans, uniformed military units, mourners and Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
The Nov. 25 crash caused France’s highest military death toll since 1983, when 58 paratroopers were killed in a truck bombing in Lebanon.
. The French military says it was the result of complex coordination during a combat operation and has dismissed a claim of responsibility by an IS-linked group. The flight recorders were recovered and an investigation has begun. The coffins arrived in France over the weekend.
The deaths draw new attention to a worrying front in the global fight against extremism, one in which France and local countries have pleaded for more support. In a surge of violence this month, attackers often linked to IS have killed scores of troops in West Africa’s Sahel region.