French President François Hollande said Wednesday that three special forces soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in Libya, in the first tacit acknowledgment that French troops are operating in the war-torn country.

Mr. Hollande said the three noncommissioned officers were killed when a helicopter carrying them had an “accident.” The president didn’t elaborate on how the accident happened or provide details on the soldiers’ mission. A spokesman for Defense MinisterJean-Yves Le Drian said the troops were operating as part of a special forces operation, making their activities confidential.

“Right at this moment, we carry out perilous intelligence operations,” Mr. Hollande said during a speech to police reservists in southwestern France. […]