A group affiliated with ISIS claimed responsibility Thursday for causing a helicopter collision that killed 13 French troops earlier this week in Mali, according to The Associated Press.
The statement from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, which provided no evidence for the group’s claim, came almost three days after the low-flying helicopters crashed while chasing extremists near Mali’s border with Niger. An investigation has already been launched and flight data recorders from the helicopters have been recovered.
French military spokesman Col. Frederic Barbry told the AP the military would not comment on the claim. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Francois Lecointre confirmed shortly after the collision that the helicopters were in the area supporting French forces on the ground fighting against the ISIS affiliate.
French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that “our mission there is important, yet what we are now living [through] in the Sahel leads us to look into all strategic options.”
France currently has roughly 4,500 troops in Africa on a mission to enhance its security and support African nations, according to the AP.
The helicopter crash underscored the threat posed by militant groups in Africa, as militants, some linked with ISIS, flee the Middle East for the continent’s sprawling Sahel. Extremist groups have found refuge in forested areas along the poorly defended border areas of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
There has been a recent surge in attacks in Mali claimed by ISIS, killing over 100 local troops, according to the AP.
France intervened in Mali in 2013 after militants gained control of major towns in the north, though they were ultimately forced back into the desert.