Air strikes in Burkina after Islamist attack

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France carried out air strikes in northern Burkina Faso after Islamist militants attacked a police unit at a local gold mine, the latest incident to underscore rising insurgency in the West African region.

The arid Sahel region is suffering a spike in violence by militant groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State, highlighting the difficulty international partners have in restoring regional stability.

The Burkinabe Ministry of Security said a gendarme was killed and another wounded in an attack on police at the Inata gold mine in northern Soum region by a large group of heavily armed terrorists.

France’s army said in statement at the request of local authorities its forces intervened to hunt down the attackers. It dispatched a Reaper drone and two Mirage fighter jets from neighbouring Niger on Wednesday.
“The drone detected a column of motorcycles leaving the area in the direction north. After observing the group and establishing its terrorist nature, both Mirage planes carried out strikes,” the statement said.

An army spokesman said some 15 motorcycles were targeted, but it was too early to say how many fighters had been killed.

France, the former colonial power in the region, intervened in Mali in 2013 to drive out Islamist militants who occupied the north and keeps about 4,500 troops in the region as part of counter-terrorism operations.

French officials acknowledge Paris is likely to remain in the zone for the next decade.

No group claimed Wednesday’s attack in Burkina Faso, with Soum known to be an area where Ansarul Islam, a jihadi Salafist group, operates.

The northern region of Burkina Faso, bordering Mali and Niger, has seen many jihadist attacks since 2015.
“It is a threat that could potentially extend across the region,” said a French army spokesman. “We are here to help when necessary.”

Six Burkinabe soldiers were killed on Thursday when their vehicle hit a landmine in the eastern province Komondjari, an army spokesman said.

Led by France, Western powers have provided funding for a regional force from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania to combat jihadists.

But the so-called G5 force is hobbled by delays in disbursing money and poor co-ordination between the five countries while insecurity escalates in the border region between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.