President pays tribute to French soldiers killed in Mali

Sahel – National tribute to the 13 soldiers who died for France during an operation in Mali – Speech by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, at the Hôtel national des Invalides (excerpts)

Paris, 2 December 2019

(…)

Freedom, alas, often carries the taste of spilt blood.

Our country’s history shows this. And last Monday’s dramatic events served as a tragic reminder of it.

Far from France, on 25 November, 13 of our soldiers were killed.

The wind whipped the arid, ochre Sahel plain as commandos called for air back-up.

The enemy, pursued for several days in Liptako, had been spotted and fighting had begun. But in the treacherous steppe of southern Mali, dotted with prostrate acacia trees, impending nightfall would have made progress on the ground difficult.

Swift action had to be taken to deal the final death-blow.

In this theatre as vast as Europe, dazzling speed must come from the sky.

Five helicopters – two Gazelles, one Cougar and two Tigres – took off from Ménaka and Gao, supported by a Mirage 2000 patrol from Niamey.

The manoeuvre was carried out: the Tigres and Gazelles went in search of the terrorists. The Cougar was ready to rescue ground forces.

Complete darkness.

Silence, broken only by the mechanical sound of the rotor blades.

Swirls of sand.

Suddenly, the deceptive tranquillity of a moonless and starless night was shattered by two muffled explosions.

The Cougar and one of the two Tigres had just crashed into the ground.

Their crew, 13 of our bravest soldiers, 13 children of France, were killed outright.

They died on an operation for France.

They died to protect the people of the Sahel, for the security of their compatriots and for the freedom of the world.

For all of us here, gathered in this courtyard.

On behalf of the nation, I bow down before their sacrifice.

I bow down before the pain of the families.

Before the parents who are mourning a son.

The wives and partners who have lost a loved one.

Before the children who have been left orphaned by this tragedy, before unborn children whom this war has robbed of a father.

Let me assure our 13 soldiers’ brothers in arms of the entire country’s support.

Some are among us. All the others are continuing the fighting in the Sahel. Let me reiterate my confidence to them all, and their leaders.

We think of them at this time, as the mission continues unremittingly.

They lost 13 brothers in arms. Yet in Niamey, in Gao, in Ménaka, they stand tall alongside their comrades in the Sahel armed forces, which are also paying the price in blood. Committed as ever. United as ever. With no goal other than to fulfil their duty, as they have been doing in the Sahel for five years.

We are at their side, just as we are at the side of the army and the whole military and defence community.

Our 13 soldiers were killed.

Thirteen names.

Thirteen families.

Thirteen destinies.

(…)

Yes, 13 French destinies.

Thirteen faces, 13 lives given.

Thirteen men brought together by the fraternity of combat and training, on snowy peaks and beneath starry skies, and united forever in death.

Thirteen names that will be engraved tomorrow on the monument to those who have died for France on external operations. (…)

Soldiers!

See your communes of Pau, Gap, Varces-Allières-et-Risset and Saint-Christol d’Albion, their elected representatives in this courtyard at Les Invalides, not only weighed down by the sorrow of your loss but also proud of your commitment, your courage, your sacrifice. See the mayors of the towns where you were born bearing the grief of a whole people. (…)

But those tears of sadness are mixed with hope and determination.

Hope in our young people, in our army.

Determination to ensure our Republic’s values prevail.

Soldiers!

See these children of France who have come from the four corners of the country, from your towns and villages. Sometimes you may have crossed their paths.

So young, but so grateful for everything you accomplished.

So conscious, too, of what they owe you: their future, their security.

So conscious of the dreams you could not all fulfil and which they will pursue for you.

Soldiers!

See before you these veterans and all the standard-bearers from our regions. Through their commitment and their example, through their presence, they remind us of what we owe our elders.

And they include you in a history, the nation’s history, whose threads intertwine with the history of our armed forces. (…)

Yes, soldiers, see the nation unite in the diversity of opinions and beliefs, goals and differences, around you, around the blue, white and red flags draped over your coffins.

Your colours. Our colours.

The colours of a free nation, always.

And united around the sacrifice of its children so that it may live free, strong and proud.

You were 13 soldiers, 13 who enlisted voluntarily.

Enlisted for an idea of France that deserves to be served wherever human freedom must be defended and wherever the nation decides.

A strong, modest, discreet commitment made public only by the ultimate sacrifice.

Far from the din of unnecessary words.

Voluntarily, because each one had chosen – alone, exercising his free will – to tread the whole path of the strength and honour of being a man.

So what we are paying tribute to today is not only the duty of each of those who, in their place, served in France’s armed forces, but also the clear-sighted and profound acceptance of that duty which makes French soldiers especially admirable citizens.

Soldiers!

We shall stand together for our lives as a free people, achieved thanks to our armed forces, thanks to you.

Major [formerly Captain] Nicolas Mégard,

Major [formerly Captain] Benjamin Gireud,

Major [formerly Captain] Clément Frison-roche,

Major [formerly Captain] Romain Chomel de Jarnieu,

Captain [formerly Lieutenant] Pierre Bockel,

Captain [formerly Lieutenant] Alex Morisse,

Sergeant-Major [formerly Warrant Officer First Class] Julien Carette,

Warrant Officer Second Class [formerly Staff Sergeant] Jérémy Leusie,

Warrant Officer Second Class [formerly Staff Sergeant] Andreï Jouk,

Warrant Officer Second Class [formerly Staff Sergeant] Alexandre Protin,

Staff Sergeant [formerly Sergeant] Valentin Duval,

Staff Sergeant [formerly Sergeant] Antoine Serre,

Sergeant [formerly Corporal] Romain Salles de Saint Paul,

As head of the armed forces, I have decided to promote you each today to the next rank above.

In the name of the French Republic, I make you Chevaliers in the Ordre de la Légion d’honneur.

Long live the Republic!

Long live France!./.

Sahel – Death of French soldiers in Mali – Press release issued by the Presidency of the Republic

Paris, 26 November 2019

The French President is deeply saddened to announce the death of 13 French soldiers in Mali in the evening of Monday 25 November 2019, when their two helicopters crashed during a combat operation against jihadists.

The President pays his deepest respects to the memory of these army soldiers – six officers, six NCOs and a corporal –, who died for France in harsh fighting during an operation against terrorism in the Sahel. He shares the grief of their families and close friends, extends to them his sincerest condolences and assures them of the nation’s unfailing solidarity.

The President expresses his wholehearted support to their comrades in the French army and other forces. He wishes to pay tribute to the courage of the French soldiers engaged in the Sahel and their determination to continue their mission. He assures them of his total confidence./.

Fight against terrorism – France’s intervention in Mali – Reply by M. Edouard Philippe, Prime Minister, to a question in the National Assembly

Paris, 26 November 2019

In Mali, France is waging a battle, a tough battle, a battle against men and groups seeking to destabilize the region’s states and organize themselves so they can subsequently destabilize us.

France has been fighting in Mali since the previous French president decided – and he did the right thing – that France would come to the aid of a state which was threatened with destabilization due to an advancing column heading for the capital. France has been fighting – in the framework of Operation Serval, then Operation Barkhane – against terrorism, against jihadist movements, against all those trying to impose their law, destabilize partner states and seize areas which, from experience, we know will threaten our security at home if they become areas of lawlessness.

But when I say France is fighting I’m speaking figuratively, because it’s men and women who are fighting; it’s officers, NCOs and soldiers who know what war and combat are; they all enlisted to serve their country, aware not only of the dangers and the risks they were taking for themselves but also of the burden that lay on their shoulders in terms of defending the nation.

Very often, when we use the terms “commitment” and “defending the nation”, they sound a little theoretical. On a day like today, they’re everything but theoretical, because 13 men have died in a combat operation. The Minister for the Armed Forces will have the opportunity, in reply to the questions that will be asked during this session, to say more about the circumstances of those deaths.

For the time being, to the families of the 13 French soldiers, to their brothers in arms serving in regiments that tirelessly defend France in external operations, and to their friends, who sometimes shudder at the thought of them being so far away, I want to express the government’s gratitude, the very great sympathy and the huge sadness we all share today.

Basically, there are few words, and they’re always a bit clumsy – mine will probably be too – to express the gratitude of a nation in which, thanks to the commitment of men and women, we can debate, not agree with one another, be in disagreement, but live without being under pressure from foreign destabilization or an enemy. That’s a huge privilege we all experience. We don’t experience it merely thanks to the strength of our institutions or the huge qualities of those who represent the nation and are involved in government; we owe it to men who enlist, who fight. We owe them a debt of gratitude and, I want to say, admiration, which we all share, I’m sure, and which is infinite.

The use of armed forces is always political – always. It must reflect goals that are set by the political authority and must correspond to France’s interests as defined by governments and by the French President, of course, because that’s the meaning of a democracy and of our institutions.

Those political goals have been affirmed and reaffirmed: to prevent the destabilization of states which are partners and friends, and, with the support of many European partners and states in the region, to ensure we secure stability and security in order to guarantee development. It’s a very long battle and its military dimension is only one aspect of it, as we know very well. I’d even say the military dimension not only allows us to achieve definitive victory but is also essential. Without a military presence, without an ability to confront the enemy, disrupt its routes, its weapons caches and its regrouping, we can’t guarantee the also-essential work of political stabilization and economic development.

That’s the political goal the President has set out, in close agreement with the states concerned and all the countries in the region, in the framework of operations involving not only France’s bilateral partnerships but also regional cooperation, or conducted under the United Nations’ control. That’s our country’s goal. That’s its interest; I’m saying what I think. It’s the reason why French women and men are fighting in the region./.

Published on 13/12/2019

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