A French soldier arrives with flowers at the 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment (5th RHC) base in Uzein near Pau, France, November…
A French soldier arrives with flowers at the 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment (5th RHC) base in Uzein near Pau, France, Nov. 26, 2019. Thirteen French soldiers were killed in Mali when their helicopters collided at low altitude.

PARIS - France said Tuesday it is determined to continue fighting terrorism, despite losing 13 of its soldiers during a counterinsurgency operation in Mali. 

The deaths of the soldiers late Monday represent France's biggest military loss in three decades. The 13 troops were killed during a counterterrorism combat operation in Mali, when the two helicopters the troops were on slammed into each other.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced his deep sadness over their deaths, and France's National Assembly observed a minute of silence.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly described the men as exceptional soldiers and heroes, who fought for liberty until the end. She said support from allies strengthened France, allowing it to continue the fight against terrorism.

Forty-one French soldiers have been killed in Mali since France launched its Barkhane counterinsurgency operation against Islamist militants in the Sahel in 2014.

The latest deaths draw attention to the roughly 4,500 French troops stationed across West Africa — raising questions about whether they are stretched too thin.

France is supporting a so-called G-5 Sahel alliance, grouping five area countries against armed extremist groups. But experts say the militant groups are strengthening. Regional forces and U.N. peacekeepers have come under attack. Some commentators say France does not have enough military support and the G-5 Sahel alliance has yet to achieve even a symbolic victory.