At least 53 members of Burkina Faso’s security forces have been killed during heavy clashes with rebel fighters in the country’s north, according to the army.
Seventeen soldiers and 36 volunteers assisting the military were killed during an “attack” in Koumbri commune in Yatenga province on Monday, the army said in a statement on Tuesday.
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The security forces had been deployed in the town to enable the resettlement of residents chased out of the area by the fighters more than two years ago, it added.
“This act of extreme cowardice will not go unpunished. Every effort is being made to disable the remaining terrorist elements on the run,” the statement said, adding that several dozen of the fighters were also killed and their combat equipment destroyed.
Operations in the area were still under way, the army said.
Burkina Faso has been ravaged by attacks linked to fighters affiliated with ISIL(ISIS) and al-Qaeda that have killed thousands, displaced more than two million people and pushed tens of thousands to the brink of starvation. Approximately half of the country is outside of government control, conflict analysts say.
The country of some 23 million people saw two military coups last year, triggered in part by insecurity.
The killings on Monday were one of the largest attacks since Captain Ibrahim Traore seized power in the second coup in late September.
Since the first coup in January 2022 the number of people killed by fighters has nearly tripled compared with the 18 months before, according to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
“This violence, coupled with the geographic spread of extremist activities effectively surrounding Ouagadougou, puts Burkina Faso more than ever at the brink of collapse,” the report said.
The fighters have also blockaded more than two dozen towns, cutting off nearly one million people from being able to easily access food and goods and move freely, the group said.
Short on troops and supplies, Burkina Faso’s authorities have turned increasingly to volunteer defence forces to help. These armed civilians, who help police the rural north, are frequently caught up in deadly assaults.
The security forces have also been accused by rights groups and analysts of killing civilians believed to be associated with the fighters.
The number of civilians killed by the military or volunteers since the first coup has more than tripled to 762 compared with the year and a half prior, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies said.