OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — The death toll for the weekend attack in northern Burkina Faso has risen to at least 28 officers and four civilians, the government said Monday, marking the deadliest attack on the West African nation’s security forces since jihadi violence started more than five years ago.
The military detachment in Inata, in the Sahel’s Soum province, was attacked Sunday at 5 a.m. by unidentified armed groups, said Burkina Faso’s Communications Minister Ousseni Tamboura. Another detachment in the nearby town of Kelbo was also attacked the same day, but was repelled, he said. The government called the violence barbaric and cowardly and announced three days of mourning.
While the death toll remains provisional, it’s the largest recorded loss on Burkina Faso’s security forces during a single attack, said Heni Nsaibia, senior researcher at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
“The escalating violence points to a very worrisome trajectory,” he said. However, he said it should be looked at in context, since in recent weeks security forces have either announced or were reported to have killed dozens of militants and conducted more large-scale operations.
The attack is the latest violence across the conflict-ridden nation, which has been overrun by jihadi groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group who are responsible for killing thousands and displacing more than 1.4 million people.
Soum province, one of the epicenters of the violence, has seen an uptick in fighting in recent weeks after months of relative calm, due to negotiations between the national security service and some jihadi groups surrounding last year’s presidential election. But since October, explosives have been found outside the main town of Djibo and there has been a resurgence of irregular jihadi checkpoints who force people to show identification and sometimes kidnap them, according to a local government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety.
The latest attack was a significant blow because the gendarme detachment in Inata was the only one that stood its ground for two years while troops at surrounding bases retreated when jihadi violence escalated. According to an internal military report from Nov. 12, the detachment in Inata had been out of supplies for two weeks and nearly starved, surviving by killing animals around the base.
Burkina Faso’s ill-equipped and undertrained security forces are struggling to stem the violence.
Last week in the Sahel’s Seno province, the Goudoubou refugee camp, which housed some 13,000 Malians, was forced to close after a series of security breaches, according to the U.N. An internal U.N. document discussing the security situation in the Sahel that was seen by the AP, said that despite the security forces “best efforts” they have not been able to secure the area.