France confirms special forces in Libya, reports deaths of three soldiers

PARIS, July 20 (UPI) — Three French soldiers were killed in Libya, the French Defense Ministry said Wednesday, the first casualties after France revealed it had special forces operating in the country.

The ministry did not reveal the names of the casualties, or disclose whether they were involved in the special forces element on the ground in Libya. French media reported they died when their helicopter was shot down, NBC News reported Wednesday.

“Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian deplores the death of three non-commissioned officers while operating in Libya. He lauds the bravery and devotion of French military personnel who each day are carrying out dangerous missions against terrorists,” a ministry statement said.

France sent advisers and special forces to Libya earlier this year to work in conjunction with British and U.S. troops, and Wednesday French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll confirmed their presence. Since December, French aircraft have been involved in reconnaissance missions over Libya.

Libya became a hotbed of terrorism after the 2011 fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, helped in part by NATO airstrikes which included France. As rival governments vied for power, organizations including the Islamic State gained influence. Western countries seek stability in Libya under a unity government to reduce terrorism, restore the country’s oil production to reinforce its economy and to decrease the number of migrants fleeing Libya, and arriving in Europe.

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