DAKAR, Senegal — More than 50 security forces were killed and dozens wounded during intense fighting with jihadis in northern Burkina Faso, the army said Tuesday.
Seventeen soldiers and three dozen volunteer fighters, who assist the military, were killed in Koumbri commune in Yatenga province on Monday, the army said in a statement. Several dozen of the Islamic militants also were killed, as part of an operation to try push back the jihadis from Koumbri so that displaced people could return, the army said.
“This act of extreme cowardice will not go unpunished. Every effort is being made to disable the remaining terrorist elements on the run," the statement said.
The West African nation has been ravaged by growing jihadi attacks linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group that have killed thousands, displaced more than 2 million people and pushed tens of thousands to the brink of starvation. The violence has divided a once peaceful nation, leading to two coups last year and increased attacks, which are encircling the capital, Ouagadougou. Approximately half of the country is outside of government control, conflict analysts say.
Since the first coup in January 2022 the number of people killed by jihadis has nearly tripled compared with the 18 months before, according to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
“This violence, coupled with the geographic spread of extremist activities effectively surrounding Ouagadougou, puts Burkina Faso more than ever at the brink of collapse,” the report said.
Jihadis also have blockaded more than two dozen towns, cutting off nearly 1 million people from being able to easily access food and goods and move freely, the group said.
The killings Monday were one of the largest attacks since Capt. Ibrahim Traore seized power in the second coup in September and was against one of the biggest military detachments, said Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank.
“While state forces are trying to recapture some areas and create an environment for displaced people to return, this attack rather put further pressure on other major localities in the area, such as the regional capital Ouhigouya," he said. “It indicates the challenges state forces are facing and will be facing in coming months.”
The security forces have been accused by rights groups and analysts of killing civilians believed to be associated with the jihadis.
The number of civilians killed by the military or volunteers since the first coup has more than tripled to 762 compared with the year and a half prior, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies said.
In an investigation earlier this year, The Associated Press determined that Burkina Faso’s security forces killed children in a military base outside the town of Ouahigouya.