The French armed forces confirmed that helicopters were used in operations in Burkina Faso’s East region, supporting reports by local sources that said aircraft had struck targets in the forests around Pama over the weekend.
RFI journalist Olivier Fourt tweeted that the French army conducted an operation near Pama involving Gazelle and Tiger helicopters in support of Burkina Faso forces on Saturday, citing the General Staff of the Armed Forces.
Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly on Monday, October 9 confirmed that the intervention by French forces, the second in less than a week, came after a request by Burkina Faso’s government.
The air operation was conducted as a Burkina Faso soldier was killed and another injured after a military vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb near Kabonga, near Pama on Saturday.
Early reports said that a French vehicle had been struck in the attack, but this was denied by the French general staff.
However, RFI reported that locals have seen French army vehicles on roads between Bogandé and Pama.
According to RFI, Burkina Faso’s Defense and Security Forces supported by French forces are conducting a major operation targeting militants sheltering in the East region’s forests. Africanews also reported French involvement in the operation.
Burkina Faso’s armed forces have not confirmed that the operation is ongoing, but said on September 16 that Burkinabé forces had conducted air strikes and clearance operations near Pama and Gayeri, without specifying when.
The Defense Post has contacted the French general staff and the armed forces ministry for clarification but has not yet received a reply.
Burkina Faso has been battling an escalating wave of attacks over the last three years, beginning in the North region near the border with Mali. Attacks have spread to the East region, near the border with Togo, Benin and Niger. The surge in attacks in the East is said by experts to be the result of pressure on jihadist insurgents in Mali and Niger.
President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré said last month that additional security measures would be unveiled to “resume the initiative” throughout Burkina Faso “to eradicate the curse of terrorism.” Security forces have detained hundreds of people in connection with attacks in recent months.
Second French air operation in Burkina Faso in a week
Saturday’s aerial operation was the second involving French forces in Burkina Faso in the space of four days.
On October 3, a gendarme was killed and another injured in a complex attack on a security post at the Inata gold mine in Soum province in the north of the country.
A French Reaper drone was sent to the area and two French Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft later struck a convoy of ‘terrorists’ on motorcycles nearby, officials said.
Parly said on Monday that the two French military interventions were requested by Burkina Faso’s government.
“A few days ago, a first operation took place, which had never been done until now, followed by another this weekend,” Parly said.
“When I met President Kaboré [in Ouagadougou in July], I made an offer of service, saying that if the Burkinabé authorities wanted to be able to rely on Barkhane, as is done in Niger or Mali, Barkhane was very willing to mount this type of operation,” she said.
Parly is on a two-day visit to Chad where she will meet President Idriss Déby to “renew France’s support to the Chadian armed forces,” according to a ministry release.
France launched Operation Serval to counter Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaeda who had exploited a Tuareg separatist uprising to take control of the desert north of Mali in early 2012. That evolved into the current Operation Barkhane deployment with a mandate for counter-terror operations across the Sahel region, encompassing Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Parly was also due to meet Major General Frédéric Blachon, commander of the Barkhane force, as well as French soldiers deployed to N’Djamena, where Barkhane is headquartered.
The minister, who will also mark French support for the G5 Sahel during her visit, also said that the joint counter-terrorism force has scheduled three operations in coming weeks.
Around 4,500 French personnel are deployed to Operation Barkhane, and they work alongside the G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force, as well as peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Minusma stabilization mission in Mali.
In July, the French general staff tweeted a graphic which showed that Barkhane had five drones, eight fighter aircraft, between six and ten transport aircraft and 19 helicopters available.
On June 6, an A400M Atlas for the first time transported a French Tigre attack helicopter directly from Orleans, France to Gao in Mali. Previously, aircraft were delivered to Niamey in Niger by Antonov 124 aircraft, and then flown to their destination.
In August, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said three Royal Air Force Chinook heavy lift helicopters based in Gao in Mali were fully operational and were supporting “French combat forces conducting counter-terrorism operations as part of Operation Barkhane.”