Attacks by Islamist militants, military operations, and waves of inter-communal violence have left hundreds dead and tens of thousands displaced since January in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, triggering an "unprecedented" humanitarian crisis that has caught many by surprise. Homegrown militant groups, as well as extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group, had been operating in the country's north since 2016, but have expanded to new fronts in eastern and southwestern Burkina Faso, threatening the stability of neighboring countries. Militants now launch near-daily attacks on Burkina Faso's embattled security forces, which have responded by committing numerous abuses against civilians in "counter-terrorism" operations, including mass summary executions and arbitrary arrests, according to witness accounts and rights organizations. As the state struggles to protect civilians, a growing number of "self-defense" militias have mobilized, escalating ethnic tensions in a country once considered a beacon of coexistence and tolerance in West Africa.
Niger's army on July 6 killed at least 14 displaced persons who were apparently mistaken for jihadists in the restive southeast, where Boko Haram militants have staged regular attacks. Soldiers were patrolling a militarily restricted zone around the village of Abadam near Lake Chad when they opened fire on what turned out to be unarmed peasants. Yahaya Godi, official in charge of the Diffa region, said: "Any individual seen in the area is considered Boko Haram." Thousands of people have been displaced from the southeastern Diffa region, and civilians have been banned from many areas in response to raids by Boko Haram from across the border in Nigeria. Many, however, have been returning to their lands to tend their crops, fearing hunger and permanent displacement.
President Barack Obama formally notified Congress Oct. 14 that 90 US troops have been mobilized to Cameroon—the first contingent of a 300-strong force to assist in the struggle against Boko Haram. The force will conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, but will not participate in ground combat operations (except in self-defense). Unarmed surveillance drones will also be deployed. The Pentagon said the move came at the invitation of Cameroon's government, which has been headed by strongman Paul Biya since 1982. Cameroon is part in a joint regional task force to fight Boko Haram along with Chad, Niger and Benin. (Foreign Policy, VOA, BBC News, AP, Oct. 14)
Presumed Boko Haram militants killed more than 20 people in a double suicide attack in northern Cameroon on July 22—executed by two teenage girls, both under the age of 15. The attacks targeted a market and an adjoining neighborhood in Maroua, capital of the Far Northern Region. (See map) That same day, 42 lost their lives in a series of blasts at two bus stations in Gombe, northeast Nigeria. A new five-nation force—from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin—is due for deployment to fight Boko Haram by month's end. Boko Harams has been calling itself Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) since affiliating with the ISIS franchise earlier this year. (The Guardian, July 23; Long War Journal, July 22)
French and Malian troops are reported to have entered the key central Malian towns of Diabaly and Doutenza, routing the jihadist forces that had taken power there. "The goal is the total reconquest of Mali," said French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. "We will not leave any pockets" of resistance. US Air Force C-17 transport planes have completed five flights from bases in France into Bamako, delivering 80 troops and more than 120 tons of their equipment, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little. It could take the Pentagon two weeks to transport the entire 600-member French mechanized infantry unit and all of their gear, according to Pentagon officials. Michael Battle, US ambassador to the African Union, emphasized: "Our support of French operations in Mali does not involve what is traditionally referred to as boots on the ground... We don't have any plans to put [boots] on the ground at this time in support of French operations."