At least 18 civilians have been killed by unidentified gunmen in northern Burkina Faso, according to security sources, in the latest violence to rock a region plagued by a swiftly deteriorating security situation.
Heavily armed men on motorbikes on Saturday attacked Lamdamol village in the Bani municipality, north of the capital, Ouagadougou, a security source told AFP news agency on Monday.
A local health official, speaking from the town of Dori in the north, said the village’s chief nurse was among the victims.
“There is panic in the village and the surrounding area,” the official told AFP, saying local people were fleeing towards the centre of the country.
There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.
A number of similar incidents occurred a week ago in the country’s north, with one on January 25 leaving 39 civilians dead in the neighbouring province of Soum, northwest of Seno.
Burkina Faso borders Mali to the northwest and Niger to the east, with all three Sahelian countries struggling to contain increasingly frequent attacks on civilians and army positions.
The rise in violence in the Sahel, a semi-arid swath of land beneath the Sahara where multiple armed groups are active, has fed a feeling of increased insecurity among locals.
Last month, the United Nations envoy for West Africa told the Security Council that attacks have increased fivefold in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger since 2016, as more than 4,000 deaths were reported in 2019.
“The military capabilities to cover this wide area is a challenge,” Michael Amoah, a visiting fellow at London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera.
Many parts of the Sahel that have seen the most fighting are severely underdeveloped. Armed groups have exploited poverty as well as religious and ethnic divisions for recruitment, while the military campaigns by the ill-equipped national armies in the region have also been marred by human rights abuses, which analysts say have pushed some civilians into the arms of fighters.
France said on Sunday it would boost its military presence in the Sahel by adding 600 troops to its 4,500-strong Barkhane operation in the region that began in 2014.
This came after Paris announced last month that it would implement an intelligence-sharing agreement and integrated military command structure with the so-called G5 Sahel countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – and ramp up intervention in the “tri-borders” region of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, where much of the violence has taken place.
“The agreement to establish a joint military coalition, a mix of French special forces and local forces, might be a game-changer,” Amoah said.
“Previously, it appeared like the French forces were acting on their own. It also seemed like intelligence was not been shared. Now it seems like they will start working together and concentrate their effort on the groups fighting in this region.”
But with the Barkhane operation so far producing scant results in stemming the security crisis, there are concerns that a continuation of France’s military strategy alone will not bring a swift end to the violence. Instead, a return to peace would require addressing the worsening humanitarian crisis and development challenges, as well as meeting political goals, analysts say.