The Ossau helicopters

We have become familiar with Barkhane, Serval, Sentinelle. Now, here is Ossau, an operation that has been ongoing since 28 February 2016 undertaken by the Barkhane force in the Mali regions of Gourma and Ansongo-Ménaka to support the Mali Armed Forces (MaAF). According to the French Ministry of Defencethis is the most important joint operation since Barkhane was launched in terms of length of time and means engaged.” But, above all, to ensure mobility and reactivity, an air-mobile dominated joint services tactical group (GTIA-A) has been set up which is using, for the first time in operation, the Manœuvre and Command Post Helicopter (HMPC). The latter can digitalise the battlespace, giving the GTIA-A the capacity to undertake its missions either autonomously or in coordination with ground troops.

Engaged in this operation to control and secure a region are 600 French soldiers and more than 200 Malian soldiers supported by back-ups from France, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Chad. Amongst these, the air-mobile sub-group from Madama in northern Niger moved to Gao, Mali, where it fused with another such group which was already in Gao to create the GTIA-A with its 18 aircraft : four Gazelles, four Tigers, three Caymans, six Pumas and a Pilatus.

Some of the helicopters in the GTIA-A air-mobile group taking part in Operation Ossau

Some of the helicopters in the GTIA-A air-mobile group taking part in Operation Ossau in Mali

These helicopters “allow us to reach zones that are inaccessible to land vehicles, to accelerate the manœuvre under way and to undertake action at the same tempo as the threat,” the ministry says on its website. For example, they have enabled commandos to be dropped off to undertake missions such as probing suspect encampments and possible hideouts, or seeking out terrorists pointed out by the MaAF. In order to be even more reactive, the helicopters have been temporarily assigned to ground troops.

Operation Ossau is intended to severly hinder the terrorists’ movements. “The tactical groups are undertaking reconnaissance and zone control missions, either on foot, by vehicle or helicopter. The objective is to knit a dense mesh over the zone, remain unpredictable whilst working on contacts with the population and notably the local authorities,” the defence ministry explains.