Burkina Faso commissions Bayraktar TB2 UAVs

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Burkina Faso’s armed forces have officially taken into service Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that were recently acquired from Turkey.

It was reported in September last year that Burkina Faso had started operating five Bayraktar TB2 UAVs – deliveries apparently took place between April and May. In the last few months, several videos have emerged of the aircraft carrying out air strikes against terrorists in the country, but little official information has emerged on the acquisition of the aircraft.

This changed on 23 March when, at Air Base 511 in Ouagadougou, defence minister Kassoum Coulibaly and Chief of General Staff David Kabre officially presented the new aircraft to the country’s military. Kabre said recently acquired transport and attack helicopters as well as unmanned aerial vehicles have considerably reinforced the military’s capabilities in both surveillance and firepower.

Three TB2s were seen, some armed with guided munitions, along with an Mi-17, Mi-26, and Mi-24 helicopter. It is not clear if the Mi-26 has been leased for heavy duty logistics work or acquired outright. Burkina Faso already flies Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters, with three second hand Mi-24Ds delivered from Bulgaria in 2018-2021 and two Mi-171Sh armed transports received from Russia in 2018.

Burkina Faso has been receiving additional military hardware in the face of increasing terrorist attacks in recent years. Since 2016, rival Islamist terror groups affiliated with the Islamic State group and with al-Qaida have spilled into the country from the north, resulting in clashes with Burkina Faso’s military and armed volunteers. Last week, for instance, four soldiers and 10 volunteers were killed in a terrorist attack.

Insurgents in the north and east have mined roads, besieged towns, wrecked water facilities and undermined efforts to deliver food and supplies to trapped civilians. Over 10 000 civilians, troops and police have been killed since 2016, according to one non-governmental organisation estimate, and at least two million people displaced. This violence contributed to two coups in 2022.

To deal with the growing terrorist threat, at the beginning of March 2023, the government granted a guarantee of more than 250 billion FCFA ($400 million) to a local bank, to acquire military equipment as part of the fight against jihadist groups.

Burkina Faso has been expanding its military in recent years, and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms Transfers database shows that since 2018 the country has received six Bastion armoured personnel carriers (APCs) from France, 40 Cobra APCs from Turkey, 24 Storm APCs from Qatar, 24 Puma M26 APCs (financed by aid) from the USA, a single C295W transport aircraft and five second hand AS350/AS550 Fennec helicopters from Spain, as well as 24 Ejder Yalcin APCs from Turkey. A single AW139 helicopter was delivered in 2016 and the country in 2017 received two UH-1H Huey helicopters from Taiwan.

Burkina Faso is one of a growing number of African nations to have acquired Bayraktar TB2s from Turkey’s Baykar. Following the UAV’s success in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2020, many African nations have acquired the type, starting with Ethiopia in late 2021. Niger received a first batch of six in May 2022.

Other confirmed customers for the Bayraktar TB2 in Africa include Djibouti, which has received at least three aircraft; Togo, which started flying at least three TB2s in 2022; and Nigeria. Mali this month commissioned TB2s into service, while Morocco is another operator.