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Jihadist attacks sound brutal alarm for Burkina junta

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Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, President of Burkina Faso and Transition, arrives at the first cabinet meeting of the newly appointed government in Ouagadougou on March 7. AFP

Jihadist attacks sound brutal alarm for Burkina junta

With a string of attacks that have claimed dozens of lives, jihadists in Burkina Faso have sounded a loud alarm call for the country’s new rulers.

The military junta, which on January 24 ousted elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore over his failure to quell the insurgents, now finds itself in an uncomfortable position.

In a four-day killing spree in Dori, in the troubled northeast, 23 civilians and 13 gendarmes died in ambushes, road mines or hit-and-run raids by jihadists on motorbikes.

The deaths have put security worries at the top of the agenda after seven weeks in which new strongman Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba focused on cementing his position as interim president.

Burkina has been battling a jihadist insurgency since 2015 that swept in from neighbouring Mali.

Violence led by groups affiliated to Al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group has killed more than 2,000 people and displaced at least 1.7 million, according to an AFP tally.

Defying international pressure for a swift return to civilian rule, Damiba has set down a three-year timetable for restoring elected governance and declared the country’s security crisis his priority.

He has restructured Burkina’s anti-jihadist campaign, appointed a new armed forces chief of staff and reshuffled the government, although he kept Kabore’s defence minister, Barthelemy Simpore.

On March 10, he issued a decree requiring soldiers who had gone into retirement in the past three years to get back into uniform.

But there are mounting questions as to how these big announcements translate into action on the ground at a time when urgency is essential.

“The Burkinabe public is still waiting for the road map from the new authorities. The general view that is emerging . . . is that everything has slowed down,” the newspaper l’Economiste du Faso said in an editorial.

It noted there had been “upheaval” in the military hierarchy with the change of armed forces chief.

Mahamoudou Sawadogo, a researcher on security in the Sahel, said that time was of the essence for Dori, the epicentre of the latest attacks.

“The terrorists’ strategy entails isolating major towns by cutting off roads and communications,” he said.

“Dori, for instance, is cut off, and people are under pressure to join armed groups just to be able to survive.

“If we continue to drag our feet, air power will be useless because the terrorists will be embedded in the population. You have to train men, get into contact [with the jihadists], go head to head.”

Political analyst Drissa Traore said, “the junta has declared it will be able to considerably reduce terrorist attacks over the next two years.

“But we find it hard to discern the big actions that can raise hopes our defence forces will master the enemy. We are still waiting for major operations” to unfold.

“There’s no grace period” for the new authorities, he said.

“The clock is already ticking. These latest attacks have killed several dozen people in just a few days and are a reminder of the need to work fast.”

Another as-yet undefined area in Damiba’s anti-jihadist strategy is the place of military support from other African countries, such as the G5 Sahel alliance, or France, Burkina’s traditional ally.

France is withdrawing its Barkhane anti-jihadist force from Mali after falling out with its junta, which seized power in August 2020.


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