National Security

Burkina Faso and the Jihadist Scourge in West Africa

On 28 December, the militant organization known as the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), announced their most recent attack in Burkina Faso. The group’s statement claimed its forces were responsible for a deadly ambush in the country’s north, between the villages of Toeni and Luli. The attack left at least 10 Burkinabe security personnel dead. JNIM claimed that its forces later encountered a Burkinabe army convoy responding to the initial attack. The ensuing firefight resulted in additional casualties and destroyed equipment.

JNIM: A Profile

JNIM, officially Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin but known colloquially as Nasrat al-Islam, is al-Qaeda’s branch in West Africa and the Sahel. The ongoing jihadist insurgency in Burkina’s north is a direct product of al-Qaeda’s network inside Mali and its local affiliate group, Ansaroul Islam (AI). AI, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, has been responsible for dozens of assaults, kidnappings, executions, and bombings across northern Burkina Faso since its founding inside Mali in late 2016. JNIM and AI are, not surprisingly, strongly linked. In addition to its own operations, JNIM supports AI activities by providing funding, training, and logistical support. JNIM’s activities have been on a steady rise in the recent period. Last year, the group claimed responsibility for seven attacks on Burkinabe forces. These included attacks in Burkina’s capital Ouagadougou, the most recent being the May 2018 twin assault on the French embassy and military HQ in the city. That incident was particularly important as it demonstrated JNIM’s ability to penetrate highly-protected areas and face off against Western security forces.

A Rising Threat

Militant violence in Burkina Faso, mainly concentrated in the north near the border with Mali, has increased exponentially over the past two years. As if Burkina did not have enough trouble with al-Qaeda, ISIS also has its own “representatives” in the country, under the umbrella of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). Since 2016, ISGS has claimed several attacks inside the country.

Jihadist violence has been spreading southeast into Burkina Faso from other African countries, namely Mali and Niger. As control of authorities over the security situation has weakened, extremist groups have taken the opportunity to make inroads upon Burkinabe territory. Over the past several months in particular, the government has shown it is incapable of providing security to even basic institutions such as schools, many of which are forced to shut down due to militant threats. Unfortunately, the story of Burkina Faso is only part of the broader picture in West Africa. Countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Cameron, and Chad have all been dealing in recent years with an influx of ISIS and its affiliates such as Boko Haram.

The reason the free world should care about developments like these goes beyond the human suffering wrought by militant groups. Terrorist factions such as JNIM pose a real danger of turning their host countries into terrorist havens. This is the most fundamental reason many jihadist threats in Africa have, in the past, attracted the intervention of Western nations, a trend which to the world’s chagrin continues till today.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Samuel Siskind

Samuel Siskind studied intelligence research at the American Military University in West Virginia. He served as a squad commander in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Corp of Combat Engineers, in the Corps' ground battalions and later in its Intelligence Wing at regional and divisional stations. For the past five years, Samuel has worked as a consultant and researcher on physical and information security issues for private and governmental institutions, in the US, Africa, India, and Israel. He currently lives in Jerusalem.

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