• Frank Visser

2015 French helicopters at Gao airport Mali

Updated: Feb 3, 2018


Since 2014 the French are active in Mali under the name Operation Barkhane. Frank Visser visited the French detachment at Gao airport in the East of Mali.


Operation Serval and Barkhane

The instable interim-government has not been able to halt the advance of militias and it appeared that the country would be trampled and collapse into chaos. Fast intervention was crucial and thus the UN Security Council passed resolution 2085. When the Malian government requested assistance from the French, their former colonial ruler, towards the end of December 2012 Operation Serval was a fact. Soon the French succeeded with the help of several coalition partners to drive back the Islamic fighters to the north of Mali. After just over a year and a half the French had finished Operation Serval on 15 July 2014 to subsequently start Operation Barkhane on August 1. Simultaneously the UN carries out a similar mission called MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) from the Malian capital of Bamako.


Gao Airport is used by the French military for operation Barkhane. Besides military troops a large group of helicopters are stationed here.

To protect the helicopters against the hars environment they are parked in tent shelters.

A SA342M Gazelle (4172/GCH) from 5 RHC (Régiment d'Helicoptères de Combat) normally based at Pau. This particular aircraft was set to be written off on 9 February 2016. This photo was taken in April 2016 when it was undergoing maintenance at Gao.

A EC665 Tigre HAP (2025/HBQ) also from 5 RHC.

To protect the crew and aircraft extra protection was mounted on the French Tigre helicopters.

To increase the range of the Tigre two extra fuel tanks were mounted.

5 RHC Tigre with both fuel tanks clearly visible.

A large number of SA330B Puma are used by Force Barkhane. This Puma (1231/DDK) is from

5 RHC.


Anchored to the ground this SA330B Puma (1143/DAO) from 3 RHC seen parked on the French part of Gao Airfield. Normally this helicopter is based at Etain.

A new type of helicopter within the l'Armée de Terre (French Army) sent into combat is the

NH-90-TTH. This particular aircraft (1307/EAL) belongs to 1 RHC based at Phalsbough.

A Pilatus PC-6/B2-H4 parked between containers to protect the aircraft. This aircraft (889/MCC) belongs to ETCM at Montauban.

Another type used by Force Barkhane is the CN-235M-300 seen here at Gao Airport.

This C-160R Transall (R224/64-GX) just after take-off at Gao Airport.


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