The United States Defense and Security Co-operation Agency (DSCA) has donated 10 Mercedes Benz Atergo troop carriers and special supplies including military uniforms, helmets, body armour, organisational equipment, medical kits and communications equipment to Burkina Faso’s elite Counter Terrorism Company (CTC) force.
The force, known in French as the l’Unité d’Intervention Polyvalente (UPI), was set up as a special counter-terror police unit with military and organisational assistance from the US Army Africa Command (Africom) in January 2013 against the background of a regional spate of terror acts and kidnappings of foreigners by Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and allied groups operating from northern Mali.
The company is specifically charged with fighting the threats posed by internal and transnational terrorism, kidnapping for ransom, money laundering and other crimes suspected to be linked to terrorist funding in the Sahel region of North-West Africa.
It was set up in reaction to an upsurge in terrorist activity and the kidnapping of foreigners for ransom by AQIM and allied jihadist groups in Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, Niger and Algeria.
A statement posted on the DSCA website said the military package was funded under the “1206 Programme” which provides support for Africom’s counter-terrorism operations by improving the operational capabilities of partners in the region through the provision of advanced training and equipment.
“On April 15, the 1206 Programme delivered 10 financial year (2013) vehicles to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. These vehicles are part of a 1206 programme to support the Burkinabe Counter-Terrorism (CT) Company as a part of AFRICOM’s Counter Terror efforts in West Africa.
“Last week, the 1206 Programme further delivered communications equipment, uniforms, helmets, body armour, medical equipment and organisational equipment. The equipment deliveries highlight the importance of Defense Security Co-operation Agency programmes in helping partners to build their military capability,” the DSCA said in a statement.
According to the US State Department Country Report on Terrorism for 2011, Burkina Faso remains vulnerable to the regional terrorist threat posed by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, instability resulting from political unrest and violence in neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire, constant mutinies by its own armed forces and cyclic student demonstrations.
The borders with Niger, Mali and Cote d’Ivoire are seen as most vulnerable to intensified regional criminal and terrorist militia operations.
The department also noted that despite its limited counter-terrorism capabilities, Burkina Faso’s government has benefited from the initiation and delivery of US government training and equipment. It continues to benefit from its participation in annual regional counter-terrorism conferences and training opportunities offered by the US.
The last US Army capacity building programme for the Burkinabe security force took place in December 2013 and involved the training of 55 Forces Gendarmerie (police) to improve operational capacity in border security operations with a special focus on counter-terrorism.
The unit underwent three weeks of intensive training under a combined team of instructors drawn from US Army departments Africom, 2nd Armoured Brigade Combat Team, Asymmetric Warfare Group, INTERPOL and special advisors from the Italian Carabinieri’s Centre of Excellence and Stability.
In addition to specialised border security operations, the force was also trained on international and humanitarian law, rules of engagement and refined police techniques in a hostile environment.
Burkina Faso is also a key US partner in the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance programme for peacekeeping (ACOTA) and a member of the US-funded Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP).
The programme was established in 2005 to fight terrorist groups and also runs information dissemination programmes to counter the proliferation of violent extremist ideologies in the Sahel by strengthening individual country and regional counter-terrorism capabilities.
Other members of the TSCTP are Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Senegal.