Mon, 17 Jun 2019

An alarming increase in deadly jihadist attacks has led to expanded French military action in Burkina Faso, a marked shift after years of reticence by the west African nation to call in help from its former colonial master.

Until now France's 4 500-member Barkhane anti-terror force in West and Central Africa has intervened mainly in Mali, while focussing on training in Burkina Faso and the other nations of the G5 Sahel military alliance - Chad, Mauritania and Niger.

But over the past two weeks, more than 20 members of Burkina Faso's security forces have been killed in the country's restless north and east.

After rebels raided a police station in the north last week, officials asked Barkhane's command for air strikes, which killed around 10 of the attackers as they fled.

It also deployed two attack helicopters to the suspected rebel haven in the heavily forested Pama region last weekend after a Burkinabe soldier was killed by an IED, military sources said.

The new theatre for operations highlight the challenges facing France as it tries to contain the jihadist threat in the region, which has taken a toll on economic growth and helped fuel the wave of migrants fleeing toward Europe.

Paris's strategy has been based on trying to build up local African forces in the stuttering G5 Sahel alliance, but the growing instability in Burkina now looks likely to draw its troops into more frontline fighting.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly sought to put a positive spin on the prospect of deeper French involvement last week during a visit to Chad.

"A pragmatic and constructive step has been taken," she said.

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