Blast kills eight soldiers in new blow to jihadist-hit Burkina

Ouagadougou (AFP) –


Eight soldiers were killed by a blast in northern Burkina Faso on Wednesday, in the latest blow to the poor Sahel country grappling with jihadism.

"I have just learned that eight Burkinabe soldiers died after their vehicle drove over a home-made mine planted by the enemies of our people," President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said in a statement.

The convoy had been heading from Baraboule in Soum province to the town of Djibo.

"The lead vehicle in the convoy hit the mine" as it was coming off a bridge, a security source told AFP.

Kabore expressed his "deepest condolences to the defence and security forces, to the families and relatives of the victims".

"These horrible and cowardly attacks will never sap our common resolve to defend our national territorial integrity, to restore peace and security for the happiness and prosperity of the Burkinabe people."

- Mounting attacks -

In 2015, Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest countries, joined a string of countries in the Sahel region to come under pressure from jihadists.

Rebels began staging cross-border raids in the north of the country from neighbouring Mali.

Using classic guerrilla tactics, the rebels aim at police and the military with gun attacks and roadside bombs, target buildings and personnel perceived to represent the state, and abduct individuals.

A toll released in April found that 133 people had died in the north in 80 attacks in three years, many of them state officials. Hundreds of schools and town halls have been closed.

On Sunday, three miners -- a Burkinabe national, an Indian and a South African -- were seized by armed men between Djibo and a local gold mine.

Hours later, three police officers deployed to help search for the trio were killed in a clash with armed men at Tongomael, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) away.

In August, 13 people in the north were killed by two improvised bombs, and a customs officer was killed in a raid.

The jihadists' strategy in the north has now been adopted in the east of the country. In the centre, the capital Ouagadougou has suffered three terror attacks in two years, leaving 60 dead.

- 'Build an army' -

On September 8, Kabore said additional security measures would shortly be unveiled "to eradicate the curse of terrorism".

But analysts say that, on the ground, the resources needed to roll back jihadism in the north are colossal and they require long-term resolve.

Under former president Blaise Compaore, head of state from 1987-2014, the armed forces had a trained and disciplined unit, his personal guard.

But this unit was gutted by Kabore, leaving the country "without a military culture", a senior official from France, which is anxiously monitoring the situation in Burkina, told AFP.

"They have to build an army worth of the name, and this takes time," the source said.

Bakary Sambe, director of the Timbuktu Institute, a Dakar-based centre of research into extreme violence, said political turmoil in Burkina in 2014-15 had been a major factor in delaying the response to jihadism at a critical time.

In some parts of the north and east, there was now a "vacuum of the state", enabling the jihadists to offer protection and basic services to the beleaguered population, he said.

Using an amorphous, non-centralised command structure, the jihadists find it easy to plant bombs when there is negligible security presence, a former French soldier said.

He pointed to the experiences of US forces in Iraq, which lost more men from improvised explosive devices than from actual fighting.

- Domino fears -

Sambe said the escalating attacks in eastern Burkina were especially worrying, as this could herald an extension of the violence to countries to the south such as Ghana and Ivory Coast, which lie hundreds of kilometres (miles) from the epicentre of jihadist revolt in the Sahel.

"In the fight against terrorism, Burkina is a buffer between the Sahel and the coastal countries," Burkinabe Foreign Minister Alpha Barry said. "If it falls, our neighbours will be attacked."