At least four Burkina Faso soldiers were killed early on Monday, January 28 when gunmen raided a military base in the northeast, the armed forces said, a day after 10 people died in a separate attack in the same region.
The pre-dawn attack saw heavily-armed gunmen ambush a base in Nassoumbou in Soum province in the Sahel region which flanks the Malian border.
At around 5 a.m. “the detachment of the Nassoumbou GFSN and the Gendarmerie Territorial Brigade of the said locality were the targets of a terrorist attack,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces said in a release.
The GFSN is a military force which is engaged in anti-terror operations in Burkina Faso’s restive north.
“The military opposed with fierce resistance and many attackers were neutralized. Unfortunately, we recorded four (04) soldiers who died and five (05) wounded,” the release said, adding that air and ground operations were ongoing in the area.
One security source told AFP that rockets were used in the attack.
“Heavily-armed and unidentified individuals attacked the GFSN military base in Nassoumbou at around 4 a.m. Four members of the defense and security forces were killed and four others were injured,” a security source told AFP.
“The attackers … arrived on motorbikes and also fired rockets at the base” which caught fire, a second security source told AFP, saying they fled towards the Malian border, which lies just 30 km (18 miles) away.
LeFaso.net reported an unnamed source as saying the attack was carried out by hundreds of militants who came from Mali on motorcycles.
The Burkina Faso army immediately requested backup from Operation Barkhane, France’s regional counter-terrorism force, which deployed a Mirage fighter jet from Niger and a Tigre attack helicopter from Mali, a diplomatic source said.
The aerial support was confirmed by the French armed forces, with a Burkina Faso security source saying it had allowed their troops to hunt down and kill an unspecified number of the attackers.
Update February 1 The Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM) in a statement claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the militants had gained “full control of the battalion headquarters.”
It said four “members of the anti-terrorist unit were eliminated, many of them were wounded and the headquarters was considerably destroyed.”
Militants captured a vehicle, five motorcycles, an SPG9 recoilless gun, 16 Kalashnikovs, three PK machine guns, five RPG launchers, two pistols, a range of ammunition including rockets, 93 mobile phones and a computer. Some other vehicles were burned.
It threatened further attacks against the government, saying: “our war against you is without mercy and your participation in the Franco-Croisée alliance for the invasion of Mali and to allow France to reoccupy the entire region again, will make you a target for us.”
Nassoumbou was also targeted in November when two soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. But the worst attack on the base was just over two years ago in December 2016 when gunmen staged a deadly raid in which at least 12 soldiers were killed.
Monday’s attack came after a raid in a village about 100 km (60 miles) to the east. Gunmen attacked Sikire killing 10 people when they opened fire on local residents.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Burkina Faso lies in the heart of the sprawling, impoverished Sahel, on the southern rim of the Sahara.
The country 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.
Most attacks are attributed to the jihadist group Ansar ul Islam, which emerged near the Mali border in December 2016, and to the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM), which has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Those groups are believed to be responsible for more than 280 deaths since 2015.
According to Infowakat, 208 people were killed in 223 security incidents in 11 of Burkina Faso’s 13 regions in 2018. More than half of the incidents occurred in the Sahel region and almost a quarter in the East region.
On December 31, Burkina Faso declared a state of emergency in provinces within seven of the country’s 13 administrative regions after 10 gendarmes were killed near the border with Mali on December 27.
Five days earlier, three soldiers were killed when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb between Fada and Kompienbiga. Four other soldiers were injured.
In the face of the increasing attacks, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore on January 9 appointed newly promoted Brigadier General Moise Miningou as armed forces chief.
Last week, Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba resigned, along with his government, according to a statement released by Kabore. Christophe Dabire was later appointed as prime minister.
On Thursday, new ministers were appointed, including Moumina Chériff Sy as defense minister, and Ousséni Compaoré as security minister.
With reporting from AFP. This post was updated to add information about French aerial support.