The French soldiers seeking out jihadists in central Mali's savannahs were prepared for the sandstorms, the thunderstorms, the lack of anything resembling a road and the need to tow vehicles whose wheels kept getting stuck in floodplains.
They knew getting information out of terrified villagers would be difficult.
"They want to talk to us but they are afraid," Malian military police unit Captain Balassine later told Reuters.
"The other day we were talking to a young girl," he continued. "First she lied. Then she said she was scared of talking because, after we leave, people will come and kill her."
Photo editing by Angie Dixon, Writing by Tim Cocks, Editing by Peter Graff