Fourteen civilians were killed in an attack in northern Burkina Faso near the Mali border, the military said on Monday, February 4.
The army conducted raids in three northern provinces in response and said it had “neutralized” 146 militants, according to a report that AFP could not immediately confirm from an independent source.
The jihadist attack, which took place in the town of Kain in the Yatenta province bordering Mali, is one of the most serious recorded in the country and came on the eve of a G5 Sahel summit in Ouagadougou.
Army spokesperson Colonel Lamoussa Fofana said in a statement: “On the night of Sunday 3 to Monday, February 4, 2019 a terrorist attack in Kain left 14 civilian victims.
“In response to this attack, the national defense and security forces immediately began operations in the Kain, Banh [Loroum Province, north] and Bomboro [Kossi Province, northwest] areas.
“This counterattack … resulted in a land and air operation which neutralized 146 terrorists in the three areas,” the statement said.
A military source confirmed to AFP that the term “neutralize” meant kill.
Sahel force struggling
The army said it suffered “light casualties” but “no loss of life” during the retaliations, adding that security operations were continuing in the affected areas.
Both civilians and security forces have paid a heavy price for jihadist attacks in recent years, with the death toll now standing at nearly 300 since 2015.
There were three major attacks in the north alone last month: on January 10, 12 civilians were killed in the village of Gasseliki; on January 27, 10 civilians were killed in an attack on Sikire; and on January 28, four soldiers died in a massive attack in Nassoumbou.
Attacks have also affected the east, and to a lesser extent, the west of the country.
On January 31, a military facility in Kompienbiga, in the east of the country, came under attack.
Ouagadougou has been hit three times since 2016, with nearly 60 lives lost. The last attack, in March 2018, hit the army headquarters in the city center.
The Kain attack came just before a summit of the five Sahel countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – to be held in the capital on Tuesday.
The G5 Sahel was launched in 2014 to improve cooperation on development and security in West Africa.
They launched the G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force in July 2017. Its mandate is to combat terrorism, transnational organized crime and human trafficking in the Sahel area.
The five nations aim to deploy 5,000 troops in the region along the southern edge of the Sahara desert to work alongside thousands of troops deployed to France’s Operation Barkhane and the U.N.’s MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali.
The force is headquartered in Bamako, Mali and is led by Mauritanian General Hanena Ould Sidi, who took command on September 17, 2018, succeeding Malian General Didier Dacko.
Ould Sidi announced on Sunday that the force had staged three operations since January 15, without giving more details.
Last week the French Armed Forces Ministry said aircraft deployed to Operation Barkhane had conducted air operations in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso police are also struggling to combat the increasingly frequent and deadly jihadist attacks. Since 1 January, a state of emergency has been declared in 14 out of 45 provinces, giving additional powers to security forces.
President Roch Marc Christian Kabore dismissed the army chief of staff this month and then replaced the defense and security ministers during a reshuffle.
At the end of February, Burkina Faso will host the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, one of the biggest African film festivals, which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.
With reporting from AFP