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France confirms deaths of three soldiers in Libya

Defence ministry's statement is first official confirmation of presence of French forces on the ground in Libya
Pro-government fighters look towards Sirte's conference centre, which has become an IS command headquarters (AFP)

Three French soldiers have been killed in Libya, the defence ministry confirmed on 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.

Western nations including France, the UK, the US and Italy have been widely reported to be providing military support both on the ground and from the air to Libyan forces battling the Islamic State (IS) group which controls the central city of Sirte and territory around it.

"[Le Drian] salutes the courage and dedication of these soldiers engaged in the service of France who are, every day, involved in dangerous missions against terrorism."

French government spokesperson Stephane Le Foll had earlier told France Info radio that French special forces were operating in the country when asked about reports of the soldiers' deaths.

"Special forces are there, of course, to help and to make sure France is present everywhere in the struggle against terrorists," Le Foll said.

Earlier this month, Middle East Eye revealed the existence of a multinational military operation run from a French-operated base near Benghazi that was coordinating air strikes in support of General Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general battling Islamist militia groups in the east of the country.

MEE also reported in May that US troops were carrying out patrols and observations near the frontline against IS in Misrata and has revealed details about the presence of British SAS soldiers in the country.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.