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article imageMali: Nigerian Air Force pilots die in fighter jet crash

By JohnThomas Didymus     May 7, 2013 in World
Bamako - According to the Nigerian Defense Headquarters (DHQ), a Nigerian Air Force jet deployed to operations in Mali crashed in Niger Republic Monday. Two Nigerian Air Force pilots died in the crash.
The Day Live reports that the Nigerian military authorities said the jet crashed at 1.05 p.m., 60 kilometers west of Niamey, the Nigerien capital (note: Niger/Nigerien; Nigeria/Nigerian). According to the BBC, the jet crashed in Nigerien territory near the border with Mali from where it took off on a non-combat aerial operation over Mali.
This Day Live reports that the fighter jet was one of four Nigerian aircraft based in Niamey and part of the Africa-led International Support Mission (AFISMA) involved in operations against al Qaeda-linked Islamists in Mali.
According to AFP, a DHQ source in Niamey said the jet had suffered a "mechanical fault." An earlier report by the Daily Post had quoted Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, JTF’s spokesman, as saying that two key Boko Haram terrorists, Mohammed Ibn Saleh and Abdulkareem Ibrahim, were suspected as "brains behind the attack."
According to a statement by the Director of Defense Information ( DDI) Brigadier General Chris Olukolade: "A Nigerian Air Force Alpha jet aircraft on a non-combatant mission crashed today at Dargol village...The two pilots on board the fighter jet died."
Olukolade added that an investigation had begun "to unravel the circumstances that led to the accident." He said details would be made known after the families of the pilots had been informed. But local reporters say that the Nigerian military authorities typical shroud details of military operations, casualties and findings of investigation in official secrecy.
According to the BBC, a Nigerian Air Force spokesman Commodore Yusuf Anas, also told Reuters news agency that an investigation was being conducted to ascertain the cause of the crash. He said: "They were on a normal routine flight about 60km (37 miles) west of Niamey when something happened."
PM News, however, reports that Nigerian Army sources in Niger have ruled out the possibility that Islamist insurgents shot at the plane, saying it was not in "enemy territory."
Authorities say the two pilots are the first Nigerian casualties since Nigerian troops were deployed to Mali in January.
According to This Day Live, Nigerian, French, Chadian planes and US drones have used the airport in Niamey to fly operations over Mali.
The incident comes as France withdraws some of its troops to allow the African forces take over the campaign against al Qaeda-linked militants in the country.
AFISMA will replace the French forces in Mali. The French operation which was launched in January successfully pushed the Islamic militants from major cities, such as Timbuktu and Gao, which they seized at the launch of their operations in Mali. But the Islamists have resorted to guerrilla tactics from desert hideouts where they launch sporadic hit-and-run attacks.
The al-Qaeda-linked militants overran the north of Mali in 2012, taking advantage of confusion in the capital Bamako after a coup in March 2012.
France intervened because of fears in the West that Mali could become a "terrorist state" and a base for launching terrorist attacks on Western interests. The Nigerian authorities are equally anxious to prevent Mail becoming a safe haven and operational base for Boko Haram insurgents.
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