OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — An attack by jihadis on a gendarme post in northern Burkina Faso killed at least 19 officers and one civilian Sunday, the ministry of security said.
The attack took place in Inata town in Soum province, near Burkina Faso's border with Mali, Minister of Security Maxime Kone said on state television.
The post “faced a cowardly and barbaric attack, an attack during which our forces, with a lot of dignity and devotion kept their position during the fighting,” he said.
Kone told The Associated Press via text message that the death toll was “provisional” and likely to rise. A soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the media, said a military helicopter flying overhead had seen a lot of bodies.
The attack is the latest in a series of violent incidents across the conflict-riddled nation, which has been overrun by jihadi groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State for more than five years. Violence by the groups has killed thousands and displaced more than 1.4 million people.
Soum province, one of the epicenters of the violence, has seen an uptick in fighting in recent weeks after months of relative calm, due to negotiations between the national security service and some jihadi groups surrounding last year’s presidential election.
But since October, explosives have been found outside the main town of Djibo and there has been a resurgence of irregular jihadi checkpoints who force people to show identification and sometimes kidnap them, according to a local government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety.
The latest attack was a significant blow because the gendarme detachment in Inata was the only one that stood its ground for two years while troops at surrounding bases retreated when jihadi violence escalated, said Heni Nsaibia, senior researcher at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
“Unfortunately this two-year stand may today have come to an end, unless measures are taken. I think these regular large-scale attacks which take place on a weekly basis are indicative of the uphill battle that the Burkinabes are facing to effectively regain ground and stabilize a very fragile security situation,” he said.
According to a widely circulated internal military report from Nov. 12, the detachment in Inata had been out of supplies for two weeks and nearly starved, surviving by killing animals around the base.
Ill-equipped and undertrained security forces are struggling to stem the violence. Last week in the Sahel’s Seno province, Goudoubou refugee camp, which housed some 13,000 Malians, was forced to close after a series of security breaches, according to the U.N. An internal U.N. document discussing the security situation in the Sahel and seen by AP, said that despite the security forces “best efforts” they have not been able to secure the area and are unlikely to moving forward.