Unprecedented explosive device attack injures four French soldiers in Burkina Faso

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Burkinabe soldiers patrol the Sahel region on March 3, 2019.

This is the first attack of its kind in Burkina Faso. On Tuesday January 18, four French soldiers were injured, one seriously, in the explosion of an improvised explosive device (IED) at the exit of the Ouahigouya airfield, in northern Burkina Faso, near the Malian border. .

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“The all-terrain vehicle exploded on an IED”, indicated the staff of the armies to AFP, specifying that the group was “on a reconnaissance mission”. According to our information, the soldiers had come to check “the state of a logistics depot” belonging to the French army, following a terrorist attack on the airfield on 13 January. Several buildings had been ransacked with dynamite and one of the French containers opened by the assailants. “It only contained supplies and logistics, nothing sensitive,” assures a French source, without specifying what was carried away by the jihadists.

According to a source familiar with the matter, two of the injured have already been repatriated to France, while the other two were due to arrive in Paris on Wednesday evening. These injuries are the first since the death of two members of the Hubert commando, Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, killed in May 2019 in northern Burkina Faso, during an operation to free several hostages, including two French people, kidnapped in Benin a few days earlier.

Strengthening cooperation

Officially, the general staff presented the wounded as being members “of a unit of “Barkhane””, deployed in neighboring Mali since 2014. However, Burkina Faso has long hosted the “Task Force Saber”, a unit of French special forces based on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, the capital, and which regularly intervenes in support of the soldiers of “Barkhane”. But the staff never communicates on their actions. According to our information, the logistics depot at Ouahigouya airfield was used by both forces.

The attack comes in a broader context of strengthening French military cooperation with the Burkinabe army, which has hitherto been relatively limited, unlike for example in neighboring Niger. On December 13, some time after the blocking, for nearly a week, of a logistics convoy of “Barkhane” by demonstrators opposed to the French presence in the Sahel, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and the French ambassador to Burkina Faso had discussed this new framework intended to ensure “more effective military response to terrorism”.

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For six years, Burkinabe soldiers have been struggling to stem jihadist attacks that have killed more than 2,000 people in the country and forced more than 1.5 million people to flee their homes. “The idea is to help national forces prepare and mount operations, particularly in terms of intelligence, planning, and by providing air support,” confides a French source to the World. The contours of this new cooperation, which is part of the logic of reorganization of the “Barkhane” operation, however, remain relatively vague and little communication has been made on the subject.

The jihadist noose is tightening

In Burkina Faso, where more and more voices are being raised to criticize French policy in the Sahel since the unprecedented episode of the blocking of the convoy, several organizations launched a call to demonstrate on Saturday January 22 in the capital, “in support of the Malian people” against the sanctions of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), targeting the military junta in power.

For the Burkinabe authorities, who are trying to calm the rumblings of the barracks and the popular anger in the face of the cycle of violence, the gamble of reinforced cooperation may seem risky. On January 11, a dozen Burkinabe soldiers and five civilians were arrested and accused of fomenting a coup against Mr. Kaboré.

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But on the ground, the jihadist noose is tightening. And the attack on the Ouahigouya airfield has further aggravated the anxiety of residents and humanitarian workers, who are finding it increasingly difficult to access the area by road, because of the threat of ambushes and artisanal mines. . ” It’s a disaster. The administration has fled, the population is on its own, it lacks everything and can no longer farm,” blows a mayor of the region, on condition of anonymity, worrying about a risk of « famine ».

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