More Than 70 Dead After Attack On Burkina Military Post, Continuing Regional Violence

On Thursday, a small military post in east Burkina Faso was attacked, resulting in 33 deaths, 12 injured soldiers, and 40 dead “terrorists,” according to a Burkina military report. This attack is the latest clash between extremist Islamic groups like Al Quaeda and I.S.I.L. (I.S.I.S.), who have a strong presence in Mali, and Mali’s neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger.

Since these terrorist groups hijacked an uprising in Mali and took control of the country in 2012, they have caused unrest and recently have started to gain footholds in surrounding countries. According to Al Jazeera, Burkina Faso’s government has lost control of nearly a third of the country to extremist groups. Captain Ibrahim Traore, who gained power in Burkina Faso’s second military coup of 2022 and who recently announced Russia as an important “strategic ally” in a televised interview, declared a “general mobilization” to regain this lost territory alongside other military leaders in April.

While this mobilization has the possibility to return millions of displaced people to their homes and bring peace to the region, the initial announcement said the state would be given “all means necessary” to combat insurgency. This is worrying, because the lack of media coverage and infrastructure in the country complicates finding information about what goes on within its borders, potentially allowing humanitarian crises – and extrajudicial violence in the region, which is highly volatile and only becoming more so – to go unknown.

A week before Thursday’s attack, men in Burkina security force uniforms massacred around 150 people in the small northern town of Karma. There is an ongoing investigation into whether or not the men were Burkina military or just armed insurgents with uniforms. At a news conference in a nearby town, the survivors’ spokesperson said they “have no doubt that it is the security and defence forces that are responsible for this carnage,” which if true is very concerning. It is possible that insurgent groups have access to military uniforms, as journalist Issa Nappon suggested to Al Jazeera, but the ambiguity highlights the international community’s need to better monitor Burkina to ensure humaneness and justice.

Beyond the active terrorist organizations, which the 2023 Global Terrorism Index says have hit Burkina Faso hard enough to rank the country the second-most impacted by terror in the world, the region is also experiencing “severe” climate change-induced food insecurity. The nation and its neighbors occupy the Sahel region, one of the most arid places on the planet, and a UNICEF report says the combination of war and worsening climate change has caused the number of people suffering from food insecurity in the region to rise by 5.6 million in less than one year.

It is not enough to provide military support against terrorism; in fact, the Russian mercenary company Wagner’s controversial and inflammatory presence in Mali proves that relying on the military approach is both ineffective and harmful. Instead, we must support the people in the region as they try and build their country in the face of the modern world’s challenges. This comprehensive strategy of providing resources for the people to build a strong foundation for their country is far more beneficial. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also emphasized the importance of “good governance, on development, upon creating opportunity on being responsive to the needs of people,” rather than military intervention, when he pledged that the U.S. would provide more humanitarian aid to the Sahel region during his visit to Niger in March.

With geopolitics becoming increasingly tense and the stakes never being higher, it is essential that we pay the right kind of attention to countries like Burkina Faso. Because of the complex nature of the issues facing Burkina, military support, which only serves to amplify violence and geopolitical tensions, is insufficient and possibly harmful. Instead, the international community should provide economic resources for the region to build itself up in the long term. In the short term, the world should provide Burkina Faso with resources to prevent famine while keeping an eye on the country’s humanitarian crises and condemning all violence inflicted by terrorists or the state.