Thirty people, including 15 soldiers, have been killed in suspected jihadist attacks on villages in northern Burkina Faso, the defense ministry announced Thursday.
The villages near the border with Niger “were the target of attacks by armed terrorist groups” on Wednesday, leading to the death of 11 civilians, the ministry said in a statement.
On top of the deaths, cattle were stolen and properties set on fire.
A unit of soldiers and civilian VDP auxiliaries were dispatched but 15 troops and four of the auxiliaries were also killed, while “more than ten” of the attackers were “neutralized”, the statement added.
The defense ministry assured that the area where the attacks took place “is now in the control of military units and the counter-offensive to find the assailants is ongoing on the ground and in the air.”
Earlier a regional official with the VDP volunteer self-defense force said the attacks occurred in Burkina’s Sahel administrative region, hitting the villages of Badnoogo, Bassian, Tokabangou, and Gadba near the Niger border.
“Several bodies were recovered,” said the member of the VDP, which fights jihadists alongside the Burkinabe defense and security forces.
1.3 Million People Have Fled
A fifth civilian member of the VDP was killed in a separate attack in Pensa, in the Center North region.
The Burkinabe government established the VDP in December 2019 to provide support for the beleaguered army.
Volunteers are given two weeks’ military training and then work alongside the security forces, typically carrying out surveillance, information-gathering, or escort duties.
But losses have been extremely high. According to an AFP tally, more than 200 have died.
Burkina Faso, a landlocked and arid Sahel nation, has been battling attacks since 2015 from forces that include the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
Most of the attacks have been in the northern and eastern regions of the country close to the borders with Mali and Niger, both of which have also faced deadly violence by armed jihadists.
More than 1,500 people have died and more than 1.3 million have fled their homes.
Wednesday’s attacks were the worst in the Sahel region since scores of people were killed in June in the village of Solhan — Burkina’s highest single-day toll in the history of the insurgency.
In that attack, armed men, including “young people aged 12 to 14,” killed at least 132 people, according to the authorities. Local sources said the toll was 160, including many children.
Since January, more than 17,500 people have fled to neighboring countries, nearly doubling the total number of refugees from the country in just six months, according to the UN refugee agency.
The UNHCR is appealing for $259 million (220 million euros) to meet its needs in the Sahel this year.
Last month thousands of people took to the streets of Burkina Faso, demanding a stronger response to rising jihadist bloodshed.
It was the first march organized by the opposition and civil society groups since President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected last year.
In response to the growing fury, Kabore sacked his defense and security ministers, taking over as defense minister himself.