Secret Guardians: French SOF operations in North Africa

Jean-Marc Tanguy reveals some of the vital work being undertaken by the French Special Ops helicopters that are operating covertly in the Sahel region of North Africa.

Since it first started in 2014, Operation Barkhane, led by the French military, has sought to neutralise Al Quaeda and Islamic State terrorist networks in the Sahel region of Africa. However, with dedicated assets set to be reduced by 50% by the summer of 2023, special ops helicopters will be even more essential to French efforts.

‘Nowhere without us!’ is the motto of 4e Régiment d'Hélicoptères des Forces Spéciales (4e RHFS – 4th Army Special Forces Helicopter Regiment) based in Pau, in the Pyrenees. A motto that has been verified in SOF (special operations forces) missions since their inception in 1992. Back then, there was just one flight of four Pumas. Today, that simple flight has grown into a regiment of about 40 helicopters, comprising reconnaissance attack (HRA) and transport assets (HM – see table).

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