Significant Escalation of Terrorist Attacks in Burkina Faso
Between 2015 and October 2018, 243 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso. According to Burkinabè authorities, between April 2015 and September 2018, terrorism in Burkina Faso have led to the deaths of 118 people, 48 of which were FDS (defence and security) forces. 13 FDS personnel were killed in terrorist attacks between 1 and 7 October 2018 alone.
69 people, including 38 civilians, are reported to have been killed from 1st January to 15th September 2018 – a significant escalation.
Terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso have spread to other parts of the country, notably the Est region. Primary targets include state institutions such as gendarmerie stations and schools, and members of the security forces. Areas where a majority of terrorist attacks are occurring are Natiaboani, Foutouri, Matiacoali, Nassougou, Pama, Gayeri and Arly National Park. Terror attacks in eastern Burkina Faso come as military operations along the border with Mali have intensified. Some are perplexed by the fact that attacks are not carried out in neighbouring countries.
The group’s identity is not yet known. The group's terror links, if any, with other groups operating in the region such as ISGS, Boko Haram and JNIM, are also unknown. An unnamed intelligence officer with Barkhane said the perpetrators may not be with Ansaroul Islam. Some security sources also allege jihadist groups are attempting to establish a safe haven as jihadist groups come under increased strain in the Sahel and in Nigeria.
A source from the Burkinabè security services said a meeting was recently held at a border town in Niger to discuss the creation of a new jihadist katiba. Most of those present at the meeting were jihadists fighting in Mali. Some suggest the group’s logistician could be led by a defector of Boko Haram familiar with weapons and IED handling, while others claim it could be a jihadist group from Niger that has sought sanctuary in the Burkina Faso. There was an attempt in 2015 by terrorist groups to establish themselves in the region, but this was countered as the Burkinabè army carried out Operation Tapoa with 200 suspected terrorists arrested during the operation.
The government has been accused of laxity and opposition parties have criticised the government for its inability to curb attacks and insecurity. Following the JNIM-claimed attack in Ouagadougou in February 2018, some claimed that the country’s security apparatus, especially its intelligence service, collapsed after the end of the Compaoré regime, and that the government has been wary of giving the military too big a role following numerous coup attempts in the past. Moreover, Rinaldo Depagne, West Africa Project Director at the International Crisis Group, said that among the 566 soldiers excluded from the army after the riots of 2011, some enlisted in jihadist groups.
Burkina Faso Prime Minister, Paul Kaba Thiéba, stated the country will counter the terrorist threat through a holistic approach that involves improving operational capabilities of security forces through equipment and training, including of elite units, and through civil-military operations. The government also implemented and adopted a decree for the formation of the BSLAT, an anti-terrorist and anti-organised crime force charged with supporting the judicial centre, formed in 2017, in the fight against terrorism in Africa. On 24 September 2018, the Burkinabè parliament presented a plan consisting of 14 recommendations to combat insecurity. Among the recommendations are the formation of a national reserve, strengthening the capacity of security forces along the borders, and the revision of a law to regulate the activity of local security initiatives (Koglwéogo, Dozos and Rougas).
Senior defence officials have signalled their intention to implement the 14 recommendations. The Minister of Justice said the government intends to implement community policing, or local security initiatives, but to adjust their modus operandi through awareness raising and training, to prevent human rights abuses from being committed and to improve cooperation with security and defence forces. A local Koglwéogo leader said he had been threatened by the attackers and asked to “stay away from their struggle”. The local MP in Fada N'Gourma recently held discussions with religious and community leaders, as well as those in rural areas, to discuss strategies to raise awareness of the terrorist threat. MPs have each contributed a total of CFA 127 million (USD 1,745 each) to a national mobilisation fund to support the FDS.
Human Rights Violations
A number of incidents have been recorded in August 2018 and September 2018 by local NGOs that suggest terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso have instilled fear in security forces causing them to act irrationally. Other NGOs also report on extra-judicial killings by members of the FDS. Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have recorded similar incidents this year and there is a worry such heavy-handedness will push young men to join jihadist groups.
A major part of the French counter-terrorism strategy in the Sahel is the G5-Sahel Anti-Terror force. The disbursement of approximately USD 480,331,494 raised during a donor conference in Brussels in February of this year has been slow. Furthermore, the force has reached 80 percent of its planned strength of 5,000 troops, which it was supposed to meet in March 2018, and is not yet adequately equipped or trained. The force has conducted six operations since its inception with the logistical support of Barkhane and is yet to engage with jihadists. According to the UN Secretary General, two-thirds of the force are in place in the tri-border area (where the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet). French Defense Minister Florence Parly recently said the force is scheduled to carry out three more operations in the coming weeks.
The past two weeks has seen increased reports of French military activity in Burkina Faso. Concerns the Barkhane force will be stretched have been allayed by a senior French military officer.