Nine people were killed in two attacks in northern Burkina Faso over the weekend, officials said on Monday.
“Six people were killed by armed men overnight Saturday at Pissélé, near Bourzanga,” a security official said.
Bourzanga in Bam Province in Centre-Nord Region is around 50 km (30 miles) south of Djibo in Soum, the northern province in the Sahel Region that is hotspot for jihadist attacks.
Earlier reports said four people were killed, while Infowakat reported three people were killed by men armed with assault rifles and traveling in pairs on motorbikes, placing Pissélé around 8 km from Bouzanga.
A local administrative official said three people “were shot dead in the village of Bool-Kiiba,” and their bodies were found after the assailants left.
Others were unaccounted for, the official said, adding that the attackers also looted possessions, including motorbikes.
A security official confirmed that an attack on Bool-Kiiba had taken place but was unable to give a toll.
Infowakat reported that a man in his sixties was abducted and shot dead in Pétégoli in Soum Province, around 14 km west of Baraboulé and around 2 km from the border with Mali.
The destruction of bridges is a common tactic, isolating military positions and impeding security forces patrols, logistics and reinforcement.
Last week, France’s defense ministry said that forces deployed to the France-led Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism mission in the Sahel had earlier participated in an operation to reinforce a camp in Djibo alongside the Burkinabe armed forces at the request of the Burkina Faso government.
It said that a detachment was flown in on two British CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters on September 13. The detachment “consolidated” the camp’s passive defense infrastructure and conducted a joint patrol before leaving on September 16.
Five soldiers killed in Boucle du Mouhoun region
Security sources told AFP on Friday that at least five soldiers were killed in an ambush in further west, near the border with Mali.
“A military patrol was attacked last night [Thursday, September 19] in an ambush by armed individuals near Toeni,” a security source said.
One other soldier was injured.
The army fired back and sent out a patrol to track down the attackers, another source said.
Infowakat reported the same toll but said seven soldiers were missing.
Upsurge in attacks in Burkina Faso
One of the poorest countries in the world, former French colony Burkina Faso lies in the heart of the sprawling, impoverished Sahel, on the southern rim of the Sahara desert.
The country 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, and to a lesser extent, the west of the country.
Earlier this month, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that nearly 289,000 people who have been displaced Burkina Faso were living in shelters, more than three times the 82,000 who were recorded as displaced in January.
Separately, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that violence had hit 125 health centres in August, shutting down 60 with the remainder only partially functioning. “500,000 people have been deprived of health care since January due to jihadist violence.” the ICRC said.
The ICRC is also concerned about malnutrition and famine, with 1.2 million people facing food insecurity.
Most attacks are attributed to the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) which has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, but also to Ansar ul Islam, which emerged near the Mali border in December 2016, and to Islamic State-affiliated groups.
Since May, Islamic State has attributed insurgent activities in the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger tri-border area to its West Africa Province affiliate, rather than to what was previously known as Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. In a June 15 ISIS propaganda video, ISWAP militants purportedly in Burkina Faso were shown reaffirming their pledge of allegiance to ISIS.
Last week, Islamic State claimed fighters from its West Africa Province affiliate carried out an August attack in Koutougou in northern Burkina Faso that killed 24 soldiers, the country’s worst-ever insurgent attack.
Multinational efforts to fight Sahel insurgency
Burkina Faso is part of the G5 Sahel Joint Force, the long-planned 4,500-strong joint counter-terrorism coalition that also includes troops from Chad, Mali, Niger and Mauritania.
France spearheaded the G5 Sahel initiative, but it has been undermined by lack of training, poor equipment and a shortage of funds. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has long-called for regular U.N. funding for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, but the U.S. has pushed back against direct funding, preferring instead bilateral funding for individual states.
In a September 5 statement, JNIM reinforced its opposition to former colonial power France, warning G5 Sahel governments that attacks against their forces would continue while they support the France-led Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism force.
The 4,500-strong Barkhane force has mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the Sahel and includes personnel from Estonia and helicopters from the United Kingdom. Denmark plans send two helicopters and up to 70 troops to support the force.
Last week, the new Commander of U.S. Africa Command General Stephen Townsend made his first trip as commander to the Sahel, visiting Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
On September 14, ECOWAS leaders at an Extraordinary Summit on Counter-Terrorism decided to mobilize “up to a billion dollars for the fight against terrorism,” Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou said.
The money, paid into a common fund from 2020 to 2024, will help reinforce the military operations of the nations involved, and those of the joint military operations in the region. Full details of the plan will be presented to the next ECOWAS summit in December.
With reporting from AFP