An American citizen was among the four hostages that were freed from terrorists during a daring French Special Operations Forces (SOF) operation in Western Africa. French commandos took down the location in Burkina Faso which was considered a terrorist camp. Two decorated French commandos were killed in the operation which took place in the early morning hours of Friday morning.
At the time of the operation, it was believed that there were only two hostages, French nationals, Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas who had been kidnapped while on a safari in the Pendjari National Park in neighboring Benin. However, once the French SOF stormed the terrorist camp they found four hostages which included the American, one South Korean, and the aforementioned two French citizens.
“All our thoughts go to the families of the soldiers and to the soldiers who lost their lives to free us from this hell,” Laurent Lassimouillas said while meeting with President Roch Kabore.
The circumstances surrounding the other two hostages is unclear. The American citizen requested not to be identified for personal reasons. Both the American and South Korean hostages were women and had been held for 28 days. Neither the U.S. or South Korean government were apparently aware of their countrymen being held.
Four of the terrorists were killed, but two managed to escape in the fighting.
President Emmanuel Macron made a statement where he said the country, “bows with emotion and gravity at the sacrifice of our two soldiers, who gave their lives to save those of our fellow citizens”.
The French Ministry of the Armed Forces identified the two commandos killed in the operation were assigned to Commando Hubert, a naval SOF unit that is the French equivalent to U.S. Navy SEALs. The operators were identified as Petty Officers First Class (OR-6) Cedric de Pierrepont,32, and Alain Bertoncello, 27. The French Navy posted on their Facebook page that both men received numerous awards and recognition through their respective military careers, such as the Gold Level of the National Defense Medal.
Bertoncello’s parents, Jean-Luc and Daniéle Bertoncello, were interviewed by the media and said their son had wanted to join the navy since high school and that they were very proud of him.
“What he loved was the esprit de corps … he was doing what he wanted and he always told us not to worry,” they said during the interview. “They did what they had to do. For him it ended badly, for the others, it was a successful mission.”
Admiral Christophe Prazuck, the French navy’s Chief of Staff, issued a statement saying, “I admire their courage, I share the sorrow of their families and their loved ones.”
In a statement, the president of Burkina Faso, Roch Kabore, said that “the joint military intervention that allowed us to achieve these results shows our common engagement in fighting against the forces of evil.”
Intelligence reports state that the terrorists were enroute to Mali where they planned on turning over the hostages to the terror group Katiba Macina, an al-Qaeda affiliate.
“Once the hostages were in [Katiba Macina’s] hands it would have been impossible to rescue them,” Francois Lecointre, France’s army chief, said in a press briefing.
Islamic terrorism is on the rise in Burkina Faso, which has violence increase steadily since 2013. With militants spreading over neighboring Benin and Togo as well. Al-Qaeda offshoots are gaining ground in the area considering the porous border region of Mali and the abundance of weapons in Libya to the north.
The Sahel, the sub-Sahara region of Northern Africa has seen over 5000 people killed as it has grown increasingly unstable in recent years.
Florence Parly, the French defense minister, said, “Those who attack France and the French know that we will spare no effort to track them and take them out. We will never abandon our citizens.”
While no American troops were active on the ground during the operation, the United States did provide support in the form of overhead intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Parly thanked American allies for their “precious support” in the rescue. In a statement released on Friday, she thanked “the Beninese and Burkinabe for their cooperation,” adding, “I salute the precious support of our American allies in conducting this operation.”
The French military had been tracking the terrorists for several days since their two citizens were abducted in the national park in Benin on May 1.
French commandos launched a mission on May 7, inside Burkina Faso where they gathered vital intelligence on the hostage-takers who were thought to be heading for the Mali border and turn over the hostages to an al-Qaeda affiliate.
French and American intelligence officials tracked them via drones until the terrorists stopped in the desert. This gave the French commandos the opportunity they were waiting for.
“It was an extremely complex operation, with extremely demanding timings,” General Lecointre said.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who was in Romania for a meeting with fellow European leaders, approved the mission Thursday night. This prompted the 20 French commandos to deploy nearby by helicopter far enough away so that the sleeping terrorists wouldn’t hear them.
The commandos approached in silence under the cover of darkness, where they got past a guard and to within just a few meters of the four tents where the hostages were being held before finally being detected.
Out of concern for the hostages, the commandos ‘went inside without opening fire’, the French Chief of Staff said. “The commandos went inside the shelters without opening fire,” he said.
In the short ensuing firefight, two of the French commandos were killed at close range, four terrorists were also killed and two escaped.
“We are grateful for the safe recovery of hostages, including an American, during a recovery operation in Burkina Faso,” said Tibor Nagy, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa. “I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the French soldiers killed during the operation,” he posted on Twitter.
A memorial service for the French soldiers killed in the raid will be held on Tuesday.
Photos: French Navy