3 August 2017

Mali: Bundeswehr Soldiers Killed in Mali Honored in Germany

Family members and dignitaries including Germany's defense minister paid tribute to the troops who died in a helicopter crash. They'd been conducting surveillance as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in war-torn Mali.

The ceremony, held at a church in the small town of Fritzlar in the state of Hesse on Thursday, was attended by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

Paying tribute to the 33-year-old major and the 47-year-old staff captain, von der Leyen said they were "outstanding pilots and brave soldiers, role models as pilots and as people."

"We pay tribute to their achievements, and to the ultimate sacrifice they have made on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany," she added. Von der Leyen had attended a memorial in Mali for the soldiers days after the crash.

The ceremony for their families and fellow soldiers was held in Saint Peter's Church in Hesse, the same region as the army barracks where the troops had been stationed.

Read more: Bodies of two soldiers killed in Mali helicopter crash returned to Germany

The Tiger helicopter carrying the two Bundeswehr soldiers crashed during a surveillance flight on July 26 about 70 kilometers (43 miles) northeast of the city of Gao. The cause of the crash hasn't been established, but there was no evidence to suggest the helicopter had been shot down.

Dangerous mission

The deaths were the first for the Bundeswehr in Mali and the first combat casualties for Germany's army in almost two years. The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, called MINUSMA, is considered one of the world's most dangerous UN missions.

Its goal is to stabilize the country and support a peace agreement between the government and rebels. In 2012, ethnic Tuareg rebels and other groups launched a bid for independence in northern Mali, but it was quickly hijacked by Islamist militants including groups aligned with al-Qaeda.

Former colonial power France intervened in 2013 and largely pushed back the extremists, but they remain capable of carrying out attacks. The UN's peacekeeping mission replaced the French mission in 2013, though France is still carrying out a counterterrorism and anti-smuggling operation in the Sahel region.

In January, Germany's parliament increased the number of troops that could be deployed to Mali to 1,000. Currently about 875 German troops are taking part in the 13,000 strong MINUSMA mission. The Bundeswehr also supports an EU training mission for the Mali army.

During Thursday's ceremony, von der Leyen also described the mission as "highly dangerous" but said it was significant for the stability of the region and for Europe.

se/kms (dpa, AFP, epd)

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