Three French soldiers have been killed in Libya, the defence ministry confirmed Wednesday, in the first official confirmation that France has troops in the country.
“Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian regrets the loss of three French officers who died while on mission in Libya,” the ministry said in a statement.
France's involvement in fighting Isis in Libya was revealed by French newspaper Le Monde in February, but had never been formally confirmed by the government.
The paper claimed French special forces and intelligence services are operating secret missions in Libya to take out Isis leaders after Paris opened up a new front in the war on Isis.
France and other European countries have long been concerned by the growing Isis threat in Libya, but Paris repeatedly said that operations in the country are unlikely.
As well as highly trained French soldiers operating in secret, Le Monde also says members of the DGSE, France’s external intelligence service are undertaking clandestine missions.
The aim of the secret ops, in which the British and Americans are also taking part, is to try to weaken Isis by taking out its main figures.
“The last thing we want to do is intervene in Libya. We need to avoid open military engagement, so we must act discreetly,” a senior military source told the newspaper.
Le Drian himself said in January that Islamic State fighters hiding among refugees travelling from Libya to Italy pose a “major risk” to Europe.
“Daesh (Isis) is installing itself,” Le Drian told French TV, using the Arabic acronym for the Isis group. “I have been very worried about Libya since September 2014. They are there, nearly 300 kilometres from the coast, and they are spreading.”