Ivory Coast has created a special military zone in the north of the country, the government said, less than a month after a deadly attack on a frontier post.
The pre-dawn killing of 14 army personnel on June 11 at Kafolo, along the country’s border with Burkina Faso, was the first assault by hardline fighters on Ivorian soil since March 2016 when a raid on the southeastern beach resort of Grand-Bassam left 19 people dead.
“Given the persistent insecurity at the borders between Ivory Coast, Mali and Burkina Faso due to the presence of armed terrorist groups in these neighbouring countries and following the attack,” the government has authorised “the creation of an operational zone”, a statement made at the end of a cabinet meeting on Monday said.
The zone will have a single central command for military operations.
“This northern operational zone will make it possible to move from the phase of border surveillance to a defensive posture… in order to prevent any infiltration of these armed groups onto national territory,” the statement said.
The attack at Kafolo has not been claimed, but authorities believe it was carried out by the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), an organisation linked to al-Qaeda.
Dozens of people, including the leader of the group who led the June 11 assault, were arrested before and after last month’s attack.
It took place in the same area where Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso launched a groundbreaking joint operation to flush out fighters in May.
Ivory Coast shares a 550-km (340-mile) border with Burkina Faso, where violence has claimed nearly 1,000 lives and forced 860,000 people from their homes over the past five years.
A 2012 separatist movement in Mali sparked a multilayered conflict that has spilled across the borders of Niger and Burkina Faso in recent years.
The escalating violence involves an amorphous array of al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS)-affiliated groups and ethnic armed groups, as well as state, regional and international forces.
Security analysts have long worried the violence would also spread into the coastal states on the Gulf of Guinea, with fighters using Burkina Faso as a launching point to attack neighbours Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo and Ghana.