Five Burkina Faso soldiers were killed on Friday, January 17, when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in the northern Soum province, security sources said.
“A homemade explosive was used in an attack Friday morning against a military unit,” on patrol in a wildlife reserve, leaving five dead, a security source told AFP.
“Reinforcements were sent to the zone to clear the area while the wounded were evacuated.”
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bomb, but violence in the region has been claimed by and blamed on militants linked to both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
ISIS claimed fighters from its West Africa Province affiliate carried out an attack on a military base in Hallele, near Arbinda on December 24. A security source told AFP that the base was attacked by more than 200 heavily armed fighters. Four soldiers and three gendarmes were killed and many others injured in intense fighting that lasted several hours. The military claimed 80 “terrorists” were killed during the attack.
Burkina Faso’s air force conducted its first joint air operation with France in response to the attack. A Burkina Faso Air Force Super Tucano worked alongside French Mirage 2000D fighter jets to support soldiers on the ground and neutralise threats.
A simultaneous attack in Arbinda town killed 35 civilians, according to President Roch Marc Christian Kabore. ISIS did not claim that ISWAP was responsible for killing the civilians.
Friday’s roadside bomb attack comes just days after the leaders of the G5 Sahel states and France announced a new Coalition for the Sahel which will see increased coordination between French and local forces. Military efforts will focus on the Burkina Faso-Mali-Niger tri-border zone, with the France-led Operation Barkhane and the the G5 Sahel Joint Force (FCG5S) operating under joint command and targeting Islamic State as a priority.
The Sahel Coalition will be the “catalyst for enhanced coordination intended to shorten the decision-making process, in particular to provide partners with more rapid support, and to promote the flow of intelligence,” the French Armed Forces Ministry said.
Macron also announced that 220 more troops would sent to the Sahel to reinforce Operation Barkhane.
On Thursday, the ministry said that Barkhane forces had conducted a “large-scale joint operation with our partners in the G5 Sahel” in the Liptako-Gourma region, which includes Soum province, since January 2.
Intensifying violence in Burkina Faso
One of the poorest countries in the world, former French colony Burkina Faso lies in the heart of Africa’s 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.
Burkina Faso’s badly equipped, poorly trained and underfunded security forces have been unable to stem the violence, which intensified throughout 2019.
Many armed groups including Islamic State are active in Burkina Faso and the wider Sahel. Most insurgent attacks are attributed to the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and to Ansar ul Islam, which emerged near the Mali border in December 2016. Since May 2019, 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.
The complex insurgency in the Sahel began in 2012, when a Tuareg separatist uprising was exploited by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda who took key cities in Mali’s desert north.
Former colonial power France began its current military intervention in the Sahel the following year, with Operation Serval driving the jihadists from the towns.
But the militant groups have morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, and the insurgency has gradually spread to central and southern regions of Mali and across the borders into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
According to the U.N, around 4,000 people were killed in jihadist attacks in the three Sahel countries last year.
Serval evolved in August 2014 into Operation Barkhane, with a mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the sub-Saharan region. Roughly 4,500 French troops are already deployed, focusing activity in insurgent-hit Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Troops deployed to Barkhane work alongside other international operations in the Sahel, including the regional G5 Sahel Joint Force, which comprises troops from Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania, and MINUSMA, the United Nations stabilization mission in Mali.
With reporting from AFP