Two French soldiers were killed in Mali on Saturday when an improvised explosive device (IED) hit their vehicle, President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.
In a statement, the French presidency said the blast occurred late Saturday morning in Mali’s eastern region of Menaka.
Sergeant Yvonne Huynh and Brigadier Loic Risser were killed while on “an intelligence mission” in the area, the statement said.
A third French soldier also suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Huynh and Risser’s deaths brought to 50 the number of French soldiers killed in the West African nation since France first intervened in 2013 to help drive back armed groups linked to al-Qaeda.
It is also the second time French soldiers have been killed in Mali in the past week.
On December 29, three French soldiers died after their armoured vehicle hit an IED in the Hombori area of Mali’s central Mopti province.
The al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) claimed responsibility for that attack in a statement released by its propaganda platform, Al-Zallaqa, on Saturday.
GSIM cited a string of reasons for the attack including the continuing French military presence in the region, cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by a French newspaper and Macron’s defence of them in the name of freedom of expression.
France has more than 5,000 troops spread across the arid Sahel region and has been fighting armed groups alongside soldiers from Mauritania, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, who together make up the G5 Sahel group.
But lack of equipment, funds and training, together with problems in deployment and coordination on the ground, have left the group struggling for credibility and still dependent on France, the force’s big political backer.
Macron affirmed France’s determination to continue its role in “the battle against terrorism” after Saturday’s attack.