Benin Launches Medals for Troops as Jihadists Step Up Attacks

The Beninese government has introduced two new military medals to reward soldiers as the army grapples with a mounting jihadist threat on the country’s northern border.

The move reflects Benin’s struggle with spillover from conflicts in the Sahel where militants linked to the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda have stepped up attacks as they seek to move south.

In a statement on Wednesday, Benin’s government said the National Defense Medal and the Combatant’s Cross would “recognize personnel whose feats of arms deserve to be held up as an example or encouraged.”

The Combatant’s Cross is for soldiers killed or wounded fighting.

Political scientist and security specialist Odilon Koukoubou said the medals were designed to encourage and boost morale of Benin’s security forces who have not experienced war since 1960 independence.

“The army has not been heavily called on at the front for national defence against an external enemy,” he said.

“The situation is changing now with the emergence of the terrorist threat on the country’s northern borders.”

Authorities rarely comment on jihadist attacks in northern Benin, which borders Burkina Faso and Niger.

Beninese forces in April said they had faced around 20 incursions from across the frontier since 2021.

France’s military withdrawal in the Sahel has heightened concerns about security along the borders of Benin and Gulf of Guinea neighbors Ghana, Togo and Ivory Coast.

Benin’s government has recently taken measures to support its troops. Last week it passed a law to provide for the dependents of killed or missing soldiers.

Earlier this year it launched a recruitment drive for 5,000 additional troops to help reinforce the border.

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