France's defense minister says three French soldiers have been killed in Libya where France has special forces operating.

In a statement Wednesday, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says he "deplores the loss of three soldiers" on duty there, without elaborating.

Officials in Libya said the Islamist militia on Sunday shot down a helicopter near Benghazi.

France's government spokesman Stephane Le Foll on Wednesday gave a rare acknowledgement that there are French special forces operating in the North African country, which has slid into chaos after the uprising that led to the ouster and killing of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

The deaths reveal secretive Western military cooperation with the anti-Islamist eastern forces opposed to the U.N.-brokered, Tripoli-based unity government.