Sunday, May 24, eight suspected jihadists were killed and another 38 captured in the first joint military operation between Burkinabe and Ivorian forces near the border of Burkina Faso and The Ivory Coast. Defense One reported Monday that the captured men — 24 in Burkina Faso and 14 in Ivory Coast — were handed over to intelligence services along with arms, ammunition, USB keys, cell phones, and motorbikes seized from the makeshift border camp believed to be operated by Jihadist militants.
A source in the Ivorian army told AFP that the camp was in Alidougou in southern Burkina Faso however security sources say insurgents have also begun settling in the villages of Tinadalla and Diambeh in the northeast of the Ivory Coast.
The Ivory Coast is among several coastal nations that are under increasing threat from jihadist militants based in the Sahel to the north. The region is a strategic security point to maintain because it is an essential coastal access point for supply shipments in addition to being seen as an economic center for the rest of French-speaking West Africa. Furthermore, the Ivory Coast is an oasis of calm in an otherwise very turbulent region. The last major terrorist attack on the Ivory Coast occurred in 2016 when 2 gunmen killed 19 people at a beach resort near the capital Abidjan. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.
Fighters found on the Ivorian side of the border during Sunday’s joint operation are believed to be positioning themselves for continued fighting in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, or Chad according to SOFREP military analysts. Religious conflict along the border zones of these regions has claimed the lives of over 4,000 people since last year.
Sunday’s confrontation comes on the tail end of a separate battle in Burkina Faso on Saturday that killed 13 suspected jihadists in the northern province of Soum. Both incidents are a part of an unprecedented joint military effort to prevent Islamist insurgents from crossing between the Ivory Coast and the rest of West Africa. The effort is known as, “operation Combo” began May 11 and includes the deployment of about 1,000 Ivorian soldiers on their side of the 580-kilometer (360-mile) border with Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast’s army said in a statement.
The armies’ top commanders say the joint defense effort is the first of its kind, and thus far has been effective in achieving their objectives however locals in the region expressed concern that the two nations militaries are under-equipped and poorly trained. Former colonial ruler France has assisted the operation by providing 5,000 troops however the situation continues to deteriorate garnering the attention of international human rights advocates.
According to Heni Nsaibia, a researcher at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, Civilian deaths in Burkina Faso are already double what they were around this time last year. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch reports increasing armed Islamist group attacks on teachers, students, and schools in Burkina Faso is having a devastating impact on children’s access to education. The report finds at least 222 education workers in Burkina were “victims of terrorist attacks” as of late April. The development is a testament to the severity of violence and social impact on public life that has displaced 830,000 people from their homes since 2019.
The suspected Militants arrested on the Ivorian and Burkina border are believed to be Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates including the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, known by its acronym JNIM. Over the last five years Islamic jihadists who claim affiliation to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, have conducted hundreds of attacks against government and civilian targets in West Africa. The International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Brussels, says the terror groups are financing their operations in West Africa and the Sahel by conducting gold mining operations. For example in November of 2019 five buses traveling to the Boungou mine in Mali owned by Canadian mining company SEMAFO were attacked by jihadists. Thirty-nine people were murdered with 60 others wounded.
These groups are also notorious for recruiting child soldiers and have demonstrated the capacity for advanced military supply chains reflected by the manufacturing and efficient deployment of IEDs, the execution of complex ambushes, the frequency of attacks according to ACLED.
The situation in West Africa demands immediate international attention before the region’s last peace front further destabilizes putting civilians and security forces at risk.