At least 51 soldiers were killed in an ambush in northern Burkina Faso on Friday, the army reported on Monday. This is one of the highest death tolls from a single attack since the area became a hotbed of terrorist activity. The incident occurred two days before France officially ended its military operations in the West African country, where some 400 French special forces had been sent in 2015 to help fight an insurgency originating from Mali. The soldiers were ambushed in Oudalan province, which shares a border with Mali. The provisional death toll was revised up from eight after an additional 43 bodies were found. The army reported that around 160 “terrorists” were killed in a counter-offensive air strike, up from about 60 in the previous statement.
Burkina Faso is one of several West African countries facing a terrorist insurgency that began in Mali after a Tuareg rebellion in 2012. The violence has spread to other countries and beyond, despite costly international military interventions and UN peacekeeping efforts. Thousands have been killed and millions displaced across the Sahel region south of the Sahara. This has led to two coups in Mali and two in Burkina Faso since 2020, with power in the hands of juntas that have severed ties with traditional Western allies. France’s relationship with Burkina Faso has deteriorated over the past year, culminating in Ouagadougou giving its former colonizer one month to withdraw troops in January. The number of Islamist attacks has more than doubled since 2020, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. In response, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres suspended its operations in Burkina Faso last week after two of its staff were killed on Feb. 8.
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