French forces freed four hostages, including an American and South Korean, during a night-time rescue in Burkina Faso in which two soldiers were killed, according to a statement from France’s Elysee Palace on Friday.
The US military supported the French-led operation between Thursday and Friday in the northern Sahel region, according to two US officials.
The Elysee statement added that two of the hostages were French citizens, named as Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas.
The identity of the kidnappers is still unknown, and the American and South Korean hostages, who are female, remain unnamed.
Picque and Lassimouillas were kidnapped on May 1 while in the neighboring West African country of Benin, according to the Elysee. Their safari guide was found dead in Pendjari National Park and their vehicle was burned, Reuters reported.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian “saluted the sacrifice” of the soldiers killed in combat and expressed his “condolences to their families and loved ones,” in a separate statement sent to CNN.
The Elysee named the soldiers as Cédric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello.
One of the US officials said its support was in the form of overhead intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The official added that US troops did not directly participate in the actual combat portion of the operation.
French Minister for the Armed Forces Florence Parly thanked American allies for their “precious support” in the rescue.
In a statement released on Friday, she thanked “the Beninese and Burkinabe for their cooperation,” adding, “I salute the precious support of our American allies in conducting this operation.”
Parly also paid tribute to the two French officers and described the hostage takers as “terrorists.”
On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron will welcome the freed French and South Korean hostages at a ceremony at the Villacoublay French Air Force Base just south of Paris, an Elysee source told CNN.
He will also pay special tribute to soldiers next week during a ceremony at the historic Les Invalides, a complex of military museums and monuments in Paris, that was originally a retirement home for war veterans.
Beset by violence
The northwest African country of Burkina Faso has been beset by extremist violence in recent months as Islamist terror groups expand their reach.
The number of violent incidents in the country linked to the local affiliates of al Qaeda and ISIS rose from 24 in 2017 to 136 in 2018, according to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
Amid this increased violence, approximately 2,000 troops from more than 30 African and Western countries traveled to Burkina Faso to participate in a major military exercise in early 2019, which aimed at boosting regional cooperation, security and interoperability.
In April, the US State Department updated its travel advisories for 35 countries, including Burkina Faso, with a new indicator to highlight the risk of kidnapping and hostage taking.
CNN’s Ryan Browne and Arnaud Siad contributed to this report.