Since late 2016, Burkina Faso has been confronted with a growing insurgency and has suffered several high-profile attacks in the capital of Ouagadougou (ACLED, 3 March 2018). However, in recent months a new front has emerged in Burkina Faso’s far east. The Est region of Burkina Faso, and the areas of the country that border Benin and Ghana, are infamous for banditry; however, since mid-February, the region has seen increased political violence. Armed militant groups in the region are increasingly targeting civilians and Burkinabe security forces, including police personnel, gendarmes, and forest rangers.
In January, presumed militants attacked a gendarmerie patrol in Kokoloukou, near the border with Burkina Faso (Menastream, 2018). In March, a similar attack was carried out against a National Guard camp in the village of Libiri, also close to the Burkina Faso border (Actu Niger, 2018). There was also an attack against a gendarmerie checkpoint in Goubé, located approximately 35km north of the capital Niamey (Menastream, 2018).
The emergence of militant activity in Burkina’s Est Region follows movements southward by militants of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), as can be seen in Figure 1. With the increased pressure on ISGS forces in the Mali-Niger borderlands by the French-led forces of Operation Barkhane (ACLED, 2018), the ISGS forces have moved further south in Tillabery. A segment of the group has implanted itself in Burkina Faso’s Est region. There has been a weak response from the Burkinabe authorities, their only achievement was dismantling of a militant camp in the village of Bakani, about 50km from Foutouri, in late March (AIB, 2018). Meanwhile, on June 16, militants orchestrated three quasi-simultaneous attacks against police and gendarmerie stations in Komin-Yanga and Tindangou, resulting in two fatalities. The authorities alleged that the attacks were repelled, but the militants managed to procure an arsenal of weapons, including assault rifles, motorbikes, at least one vehicle, and assorted ammunition (RFI, 2018).
During the first half of 2018, there have been at least eight attacks targeting the Burkinabe security forces, resulting in four fatalities. These numbers are relatively low compared to other conflicts in this region, however, the militant presence in Est follows the pattern of an enduring and expanding regional insurgency.
The conflicts playing out in Burkina Faso and Niger have largely been viewed as spill-over from the Malian conflict. However, they have developed into full-fledged localized insurgencies.