Koaci.com (usually not a bad source in Côte d’Ivoire) reports having learned from Malian military sources that two French helicopters formerly based in Burkina Faso have struck Islamist positions in Konna and Douentza during the night of Thursday to Friday, letting the Malian forces take back some of the lost ground.
An Eurocopter Tigre illustrates the article, but there is no reason to believe that Tigres are currently deployed around Mali.
I have attempted to find out the type of the two helicopters mentioned by Koaci.com, but I found no current information. That said, Algérie1.com mentioned last September that two Gazelles, arrived in a military base near Ouagadougou last September, to be assembled on site after shipping disassembled for more discretion. In October, Le Parisien confirmed the presence of two French Gazelles in Burkina. So odds are that those are the two that struck last night.
If they were Gazelle, which variant ? In Libya, even with NVG, Gazelles with a 20mm gun have soon been sidelined in reserve aboard Tonnerre and Mistral : most of the Gazelle missions have been performed by the HOT variant with the Viviane infrared sights – 425 HOT missiles have been shot in Libya. I would guess that given a similar environment, the same mode of operation has been adopted in Mali – so let’s say that at least one of the two is a Gazelle Viviane.
Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Mali… The old Gazelles still follow an impressive tempo ! ALAT does not seem in a hurry to retire them.
In Mali anyway, rugged and mature platforms such as the Gazelle are much better suited to the light expeditionary logistical support available locally – the precious Tiger might be able to sleep rough, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Update 20130111 18:48 – @AbouDjaffar guesses the mystery helos are Tigre. I stand by my Gazelle bet… We’ll know sooner or later !
Update 20130112 12:13 – Opex360 confirms that strikes have occured yesterday at 16:00, performed by 4ème Régiment d’Hélicoptères des Forces spéciales (RHFS) with Gazelles (HOT and 20mm)… So I guessed right !