Burkina Faso’s government says at least 11 soldiers have been killed and 50 civilians were missing after armed fighters attacked a 150-vehicle military-escorted convoy taking supplies to a northern town.
In a statement on Tuesday, the government said the assault took place on Monday in the commune of Gaskinde in Soum province, where armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) group have been escalating attacks and seizing territory since 2015.
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Some 28 people, including 20 soldiers, were wounded, while dozens of trucks were destroyed.
Violence has raged in Burkina Faso since Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba seized power in a coup in January, toppling the West African country’s elected leader and promising to rein in the armed groups. As in neighbouring countries, fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) have stoked the unrest, even after Damiba earlier this month sacked his defence minister and assumed the role himself.
In the northern Soum province, armed groups have blockaded several areas, so government convoys and airdrops have delivered essential goods to trapped civilians. Monday’s attack was the latest targeting army-escorted resupply convoys.
Lionel Bilgo, spokesperson for the government, called the attack “cowardly and barbaric”.
“The provisional toll is that 11 bodies of soldiers have been found,” he said. “About 50 civilians are missing and searches are ongoing.”
A security source told the AFP news agency that the toll could be as high as 60 dead.
“Practically the entire convoy was burnt,” a source told the agency.
A video shared online showed people scrambling to retrieve goods from at least a dozen blazing trucks and a plume of smoke stretching across the scrubland. Another video showed crowds welcoming vehicles from the convoy that had survived the attack and made it to the town of Djibo.
The footage could not be verified.
Insecurity has risen across West Africa’s Sahel region over the past decade as an armed struggle that took root in Mali has spread. Thousands have been killed and more than two million displaced despite the presence of foreign troops and United Nations peacekeepers. Fighters have mined roads, besieged towns, destroyed water facilities and undermined efforts to resupply Burkina Faso’s increasingly isolated north and east.
On Sunday, at least four people were wounded when another army-escorted resupply convoy in the Sahel hit a roadside bomb, security sources told AFP, but the vehicles were able to reach their destination. On September 6, at least 35 civilians were killed when a vehicle in their convoy also hit an improvised explosive device.
More than 40 percent of Burkina Faso, a former French colony, is now outside government control.
In recent years, the violence has begun to spill over into the littoral states of Ivory Coast and Togo.
“The deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso and Mali has made the north of the coastal countries the new front line against armed groups operating in the Sahel,” the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German think tank, said in a report in April.