Operation Bayard and the Death of Ansar al-Islam Leader Malam Ibrahim Dicko

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, July 18, 2017

The death of Malam Ibrahim Dicko, the radical Islamist leader of Burkina Faso’s Ansar al-Islam movement, marks a major success for combined French-Burkinabé security operations in the volatile region alongside the northern border with Mali. Dicko’s movement, composed largely of Muslim Fulani and Rimaïbe tribesmen, had created havoc in the area with several fierce assaults on military and police bases in the region in December 2016 and February 2017. [1]

French Mirage 2000 Jets during Operation Bayard  (© Emmanuel Huberdeau)

Dicko’s death appears to be a direct consequence of Frances’s “Operation Bayard.” This operation used intelligence gathered in late March 2017’s “Operation Panga,” a joint French- Burkinabé effort to clear the region of the border with Mali in Soum Province of Islamist militants. Operation Bayard began on April 29 with strikes by French Mirage 2000 jet fighters on suspected Ansar al-Islam bases along the border in the Foulsaré Forest.

Tigre HAD (Hélicoptère Appui Destruction – Helicopter Support Destruction) attack helicopters armed with Hellfire AGM-114 missiles secured the perimeter to inhibit the militants’ escape before French commandos were inserted by NH90 Caïman helicopters. Over April 29-30 the initial team was joined by French para-commandos and combat engineers to defuse the mines the militants were in the habit of deploying to prevent infiltration of their bases (a French military engineer was killed by a mine during Operation Panga). The commandos killed 20 militants and wounded many more before seizing twenty motorcycles (an important element in Ansar al-Islam’s surprise attacks), two vehicles, and a large quantity of arms, ammunition, computer gear and bomb components.

Malam Ibrahim Dicko and his bodyguard were reported to have come under attack from one of the Tigre helicopters before the surviving militants scattered to escape the French commandos (Jeune Afrique, July 12, 2017). Unable to settle in one place for long due to constant pressure from pursuing security forces, Dicko is believed to have died sometime in June from complications due to diabetes.

French Tigre HAD Attack Helicopter

A vague posting on Ansar al-Islam’s little-used Facebook page (no longer available) suggested that Dicko’s “grave circumstances” had led to his replacement as Ansar al-Islam leader by his brother, Jafar Dicko, the “new commander of the believers and guide of Ansar al-Islam” (Fasozine.com, June 28, 2017).

The expiry of the charismatic Ibrahim Dicko and the death of 20 of his fighters (with many more incapacitated out of roughly 150 members) in Operation Bayard may deal a death blow to Ansar al-Islam, which is less than a year old. The group has already lost two of Dicko’s most valued lieutenants. One, Amadou Boly, was assassinated on Dicko’s orders when he objected to the growing extremism of the movement; the other, Harouna Dicko (Dicko is a very common name in the area), was killed in late March by the Burkinabé Groupement des forces anti-terroristes (GFAT), a joint army/gendarmerie anti-terrorist formation. Jafar Dicko, an unknown quantity, will be hard-pressed to revive the movement as an independent military threat. Surviving members are more likely to join one of the other militant groups operating in the region with similar aims, such as Amadou Koufa Diallo’s largely Fulani Force de libération du Macina, now part of the larger Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa’l-Muslimin (JNIM – Group for the Defense of Islam and Muslims) led by Iyad ag Ghali.

Note

  1. For Dicko’s biography, see Andrew McGregor, “Islamist Insurgency in Burkina Faso: A Profile of Malam Ibrahim Dicko,” Militant Leadership Monitor, April 30, 2017, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3908

Islamist Insurgency in Burkina Faso: A Profile of Malam Ibrahim Dicko

Andrew McGregor

April 30, 2017

Though the West African nation of Burkina Faso (and its earlier incarnation as Upper Volta) has had a sometimes turbulent political history since gaining its independence from France in 1960, terrorism was not one of its problems until the creation of Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist extremist movement led by Malam Ibrahim Dicko. The last two years have seen an increasing number of terrorist attacks in the landlocked majority Muslim nation that have killed over 70 people.

Malam Ibrahim Dicko (Burkinabe.com)

Assassinations, intimidation and assaults on civic institutions are creating widespread instability in northern Burkina Faso that is interfering with the delivery of social services and food distribution. Though Ansar al-Islam militants number only roughly 150 to 200 individuals, the small movement wields a disproportionate influence in impoverished northern Burkina Faso (Agence de Presse Africaine, April 8).

Malam Ibrahim Dicko is a member of the Fulani, an ethnic group of roughly 25 million people spread across 21 African countries, with a concentration in the Sahel region — they are also known as Peul, Fulbe and Fula. Fulani culture is centered on their main occupation as semi-nomadic cattle-herders. In recent years a general but uncoordinated southward movement of the herders in West Africa has created widespread conflict with sedentary agricultural communities. [1]

Today, nearly all Fulani are Muslims, and they have a long tradition of jihad. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Fulani attempted to create Islamic caliphates in the Sahel region until French conquest put an end to these states in the 1890s. The goal of Ansar al-Islam appears to be the re-establishment of a Fulani caliphate in the region with the aid of the Islamic State (IS) organization, which is making inroads in the area at the expense of its Islamist rival, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Unlike the earlier Sufi-dominated jihads, which succeeded, in part, due to their ability to absorb a certain degree of pre-Islamic customs and religious practices, Ansar al-Islam is an expression of Salafist Islam, which is intolerant of any modifications to what it sees as the “pure” Islam of the Salaf (the “pious predecessors” of the first three generations of Islam).

 Early Years

Approximately 46-years of age, Malam Ibrahim Dicko was born in the town of Soboule, 60 kilometers (km) north of the city of Djibo in Burkina Faso’s northern Soum Province. [2] Following an early education at a state school, Dicko moved on to Koranic studies. After marrying the daughter of a prominent Djibo imam, the young Dicko began to gain a reputation for piety and knowledge of Islam to the point that his efforts to promote Islam through his al-Irshad organization gained state approval (Le Monde, April 11; Jeune Afrique, January 9).

Burkina Faso – Soum Province in red

Malam Ibrahim began attracting a following in northern Burkina Faso in 2012 through preaching and delivering radio sermons. These activities drew the attention of the security services of the Blaise Compaoré regime (Compaoré was president until 2014, when a popular uprising put an end to his 27-year term in office) though initially his sermons demonstrated a degree of tolerance. Most notably, Dicko emphasized the equality of the Fulani and the Rimaïbe ethnic group, which had been enslaved by the Fulani in the 17th century. This ran counter to traditional Fulani views in the region and brought Dicko support from the Rimaïbe — the majority ethnic group in Soum Province— while antagonizing traditional Fulani leaders (Le Monde, April 11).

The construction of a mosque and madrassa (Islamic religious school) in the Djibo region helped spread his views to local Muslims, though he appears to have fallen off the radar of the national security services for a time. Inspired by the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012, Dicko headed north to join the short-lived rebellion, which was quashed by French forces and their African allies in early 2013.

Dicko was arrested for possession of firearms by French troops in Tessalit (northern Mali) in late 2013, along with some 20 young followers. Dicko was also in possession of a large number of Euros at the time of his arrest (Jeune Afrique, April 6). The French turned him over to Malian authorities who confined him in a Bamako prison until he obtained his release in 2015 by paying a large fine (IB Times, January 4).

After a short return to Djibo and the divorce of one of his two wives, Dicko left once more for northern Mali in 2015 with a number of followers to take up training in arms (IB Times, January 4). At this time he met extremist Fulani preacher Amadou Koufa Diallo — leader of the Force de libération du Macina, also dedicated to the recreation of a Fulani caliphate — which proved an important stage in his radicalization (Burkinaonline.com, December 28, 2016). By this time, Dicko had attracted the attention of the newly formed Agence nationale de renseignement (ANR, National Intelligence Agency) in Burkina Faso and shifted his base from Djibo to the forests straddling the Burkinabé-Malian border region (Jeune Afrique, April 6).

 Launching Ansar al-Islam

Having founded the radical Ansar al-Islam movement in late 2016, Dicko created an operational base and refuge in the forests of Mondoro in the Mopti region of central Mali, just across the border from Burkina Faso. Mopti has also witnessed growing levels of jihadist activity since 2015. Three Malian soldiers died in February 2016 when their vehicle struck a landmine while on patrol in Mondoro (BBC, February 9, 2016).

Inside northern Burkina Faso, Dicko’s militants began to threaten teachers and students in state schools, forcing the closure of over 600 schools in Soum and Oudalan provinces (OCHA Reliefweb, February 15). In many cases, armed members of Ansar al-Islam arrive at village schools on motorcycles before storming in to demand teachers abandon the state curriculum in favor of Koranic studies (IB Times, February 2). Weddings and other ceremonies have also been interrupted by gunmen who object to musical performances and anything more than the most ascetic observations of these occasions.

Dicko tolerates little dissent in his movement; the group’s first deputy leader, Amadou Boly, was assassinated after objecting to Dicko’s increasing extremism (Burkinaonline.com, December 28, 2016). Ansar al-Islam is also known for attacking dissenting imam-s and deserters from the group, particularly those involved in trying to persuade youth from joining the movement (RFI, January 3; IB Times, January 24). These attacks have served as a warning to locals that collaboration with the government or security forces will be swiftly punished. The murders of educators and those suspected of collaborating with state security forces in Soum Province are typically carried out by militants who arrive at night on motorcycles and then flee across the border to their bases in Mali (particularly in the Douentza region) (Journal du Mali, March 24). In recent years, Douentza has been the scene of numerous ethnic clashes pitting the Fulani against the Dogon and Bambara peoples.

Douentza (MaliActu)

Attack on Nassoumbou

Dicko’s group claimed responsibility for the attack on Burkinabé troops at Nassoumbou (20 km south of the border with Mali) last December that killed 11 soldiers and one gendarme. The security personnel belonged to the Groupement des forces anti-terroristes (GFAT), a joint army/gendarmerie anti-terrorist group formed in 2012 to secure the northern border from terrorist infiltration. The fierce attack by roughly 40 militants in 4×4 trucks and on motorcycles used heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. One French-built ACMAT Bastion armored personnel carrier was destroyed in the assault. In a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, Ansar al-Islam acknowledged the loss of two fighters but promised “this attack will not be the last” (DakarActu.com, January 4).

In mid-February, Ansar al-Islam militants on motorcycles stormed two police stations in Soum Province, plundering them before burning them to the ground. At one site, the militants left behind a sign reading in Arabic “Ansar al-Islam” (La Tribune Afrique, February 28). GFAT obtained some measure of revenge in late March when it succeeded in arresting 18 members of Ansar al-Islam and killing Harouna Dicko, Dicko’s chief lieutenant, in Djibo, the capital of Soum Province (Journal du Mali, March 24).

State Response to Ansar al-Islam

The ability of Burkina Faso’s army to provide security was long weakened by its politicization and rivalry with the Régiment de sécurité présidentielle (RSP), an elite but independent military unit loyal to former president Blaise Compaoré. With training, resources and superior arms all diverted to the RSP, the small, poorly trained and infrequently paid Burkinabe army remained challenged to provide security in Burkina Faso despite U.S. efforts to provide training in conventional warfare and counter-terrorism techniques. When a post-Compaoré transitional government recommended disbanding the RSP (popularly despised for its brutality in support of Compaoré’s rule), General Gilbert Diendéré led the regiment in a failed coup d’état in September 2015.  The coup attempt and the subsequent indictment of nearly 100 soldiers and officers effectively sidelined the RSP (Jeune Afrique, April 12).

Complicating counter-terrorist operations in the north are the vast distances between settlements, close cross-border ethnic ties and a pervasive lack of trust of security forces, which contrasts with the hard cash paid by the jihadists for information on the movements and strength of the security forces. According to a Burkinabé security official: “Even though we have permanent outposts in many villages, there are still corridors through which they can infiltrate. We will never have enough surveillance resources to manage the problem without the help of the population” (Le Monde, March 6, 2016). Human rights groups state they have received reports of alleged abuses by state security forces hunting Dicko’s militants (IB Times, February 2).

Colonel Yves Thiombiano

With the support of French troops, vehicles and combat helicopters attached to France’s Operation Barkhane, Burkinabé and Malian troops launched “Operation Panga” in late-March to clear the border region of Islamist militants such as Amadou Koufa and Malam Ibrahim (MaliActu, April 16). The Burkinabé troops, led by Colonel Yves Thiombiano, focused on the Fhero Forest of Soum Province where Ansar al-Islam has established bases. The work is delicate as the jihadists have carefully mined entrances and routes through the forest (Agence de Presse Africaine, April 8). On April 6, a French military vehicle struck a mine, followed by an ambush of a French patrol that killed a military engineer. Speaking of Dicko, Colonel Thiombiano said: “We think that this is a citizen who has lost his way and who can still redeem himself, especially as it will permit the citizens of the Sahel, especially in Djibo, to live in peace, to permit children to go to school and the administration to set up” (Koaci.com, April 10).

Liptako-Gourma Authority

Recognizing the inability of the security forces of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso to tackle the jihadists on their own, the governments of these nations recently agreed to unite their troops in the “Liptako-Gourma Force” to counter the terrorists. The new grouping will have a rotating command with a headquarters in Niamey, the capital of Niger. The force is a military offshoot of the Liptako-Gourma Authority, a regional development agency formed in 1970. Its formation was inspired by the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) created to bring the militaries of five West African states together to combat Boko Haram with greater effectiveness (RFI, January 25).

Rejecting the JNIM Alliance

Dicko has displayed an unusual streak of independence, denouncing the decision of his former mentor Amadou Koufa to align the Macina Liberation Front, his Fulani-dominated jihadist movement, with a newly formed alliance of regional jihadists, the Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa’l-Muslimin (JNIM, Group for the Defense of Islam and Muslims). Including Mokhatar Belmokhtar’s al-Murabitun and led by Tuareg extremist and Ansar al-Din leader Iyad ag Ghali, the Jama’at has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. In a sign of the growing rift between the two Fulani jihadists, Dicko characterized Koufa’s decision to align with al-Qaeda rather than the Islamic State as “a clear sign of weakness” and suggested Koufa was nothing less than a “hypocrite” who believed he could deceive God (Facebook posting via BBC Monitoring, March 14). The merger received the approval of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leader Abu Musab Abd al-Wadud and is seen as an attempt to consolidate support for al-Qaeda at a time when it is being challenged by the spreading influence of rival Islamic State formations in West Africa (Jeune Afrique, March 2; Reuters, March 18).

 Conclusion

Despite Ansar al-Islam’s small size, relative lack of striking power and general unpopularity with much of the Burkinabé community it intends to rally to its side, Malam Ibrahim’s Islamist militants have exposed the weakness of the state in northern Burkina Faso while demonstrating the virtue of audacity and the value of cross-border refuges in insurgent operations. As in the case of Boko Haram, regional inter-governmental cooperation is essential to contain the threat posed by Ansar al-Islam. Given the current small size of the movement and its loss of two of Dicko’s most important lieutenants, the elimination or arrest of Dicko himself might prove a devastating blow to the group, though there are a number of other radical Islamist groups in the region capable of absorbing the remnants.

 Notes

 [1] For the larger implications of the Fulani upheaval, see Andrew McGregor, “The Fulani Crisis: Communal Violence and Radicalization in the Sahel,” CTC Sentinel 10(2), Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, February 22, 2017, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-fulani-crisis-communal-violence-and-radicalization-in-the-sahel

[2] “Malam” is the Hausa language version of the Arabic mu’allim, or “teacher.”

This article first appeared in the April 2017 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Operation Barkhane: France’s New Military Approach to Counter-Terrorism in Africa

Andrew McGregor

July 24, 2014

With several military operations underway in the former colonies of French West Africa, Paris has decided to reorganize its deployments with an eye to providing a more mobile and coordinated military response to threats from terrorists, insurgents or other forces intent on disturbing the security of France’s African backyard.

France will redeploy most of its forces in Africa as part of the new Operation Barkhane (the name refers to a sickle-shaped sand dune). Following diplomatic agreements with Chad, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania (the “Sahel G-5”), over 3,000 French troops will be involved in securing the Sahel-Sahara region in cooperative operations involving G-5 troops. Other assets to be deployed in the operation include 20 helicopters, 200 armored vehicles, 200 trucks, six fighter-jets, ten transport aircraft and three drones (Le Figaro [Paris], July 13).

Operation BarkhanePresident Hollande made a tour of Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Chad between July 17 to 19 to discuss the new security arrangements with political leaders, but also to promote French trade in the face of growing Chinese competition (Economist, July 19). In Niger, Hollande was met by a group protesting French uranium mining operations in that country (AFP, July 18). In a speech given in Abidjan, French president François Hollande declared that the reorganization of French military assets in Africa would enable “quick and effective responses to crisis… Rather than having heavy and unwieldy crisis bases, we prefer to have facilities that can be used for fast and effective interventions” (Nouvel Observateur [Paris], July 19).

The official launch of Operation Barkhane will come in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena on August 1. The operation will be commanded by the highly-experienced Major General Jean-Pierre Palasset, who commanded the 27e Brigade d’Infanterie de Montagne (27th Mountain Infantry Battalion, 2003-2005) before leading Operation Licorne in Côte d’Ivoire (2010-2011) and serving as commander of the Brigade La Fayette, a joint unit comprising most of the French forces serving in Afghanistan (2011-2012).

The initiation of Operation Barkhane brings an end to four existing French operations in Africa; Licorne (Côte d’Ivoire, 2002-2014), Épervier (Chad, 1986-2014), Sabre (Burkina Faso, 2012-2014) and Serval (Mali, 2013-2014). Licorne is coming to an end (though 450 French troops will remain in Abidjan as part of a logistical base for French operations) while the other operations will be folded into Operation Barkhane. Operation Sangaris (Central African Republic, 2013 – present) is classified as a humanitarian rather than counter-terrorism mission and the deployment of some 2,000 French troops will continue until the arrival of a UN force in September (Bloomberg, July 21). Some 1200 French soldiers will remain in northern Mali (Guardian [Lagos], July 15). Existing French military deployments in Djibouti, Dakar (Senegal) and Libreville (Gabon) are expected to be scaled back significantly, a process already underway in Dakar (Jeune Afrique, July 19).

8 RPIMaSoldiers of the 8th Regiment of Marine Infantry Paratroopers (8e RPIMa), deployed in Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire

The force in Chad has been boosted from 950 to 1250 men. Chad will play an important role in Operation Barkhane – N’Djamena’s Kossei airbase will provide the overall command center, with two smaller bases in northern Chad at Faya Largeau and Abéché, both close to the Libyan border. Zouar, a town in the Tubu-dominate Tibesti Masif of northern Chad, has also been mentioned as a possibility (Jeune Afrique, July 19). Kossei will provide a home for three Rafale fighter-jets, Puma helicopters and a variety of transport and fuelling aircraft. Chadian troops fought side-by-side with French forces in northern Mali in 2013 and are regarded as the most effective combat partners for France in North Africa despite a recent mixed performance in the CAR. Four Chadian troops under UN command died in a June 11 suicide bombing in the northern Mali town of Aguelhok (AFP, June 11). Chadian opposition and human rights groups are dismayed by the new agreement, which appears to legitimize and even guarantee the continued rule of President Idriss Déby, who has held power since 1990 (RFI, July 19).

Intelligence operations will be headquartered in Niamey, the capital of Niger and home to French unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations in West Africa. There are currently about 300 French troops stationed in Niger, most of them involved in protecting, maintaining and operating two unarmed General Atomic MQ-9 Reaper drones and an older Israeli-built Harfang drone (Bloomberg, July 21). The French-operated Harfang drones are being gradually phased out in favor of the MQ-9s, though the Harfangs saw extensive service during French operations in northern Mali in 2013. Three Mirage 2000 fighter-jets will be transferred from N’Djamena to Niamey. A French Navy Dassault Atlantique 2 surveillance aircraft has been withdrawn from Niamey with the conclusion of Operation Serval.

Small groups of French Special Forces will continue to be based in Ougadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, and at Atar, a small settlement in northwestern Mauritania. Other small bases are planned for Tessalit in Mali, which controls the road running between the rebellious Kidal region and southern Algeria, and in Madama in Niger, a strategic post near the Malian border that was the site of a French colonial fort. There are reports that French troops have already occupied the nearby Salvador Pass, an important smuggling route between Niger and Libya that appears to have acted as a main transit route for terrorists passing through the region (Libération [Paris], July 16).

French forces in the Sahel-Sahara region will continue to be targeted by Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Murabitun group, which claimed responsibility for the death of one Legionnaire and the wounding of six others in a suicide bomb attack in northern Mali on July 15 (al-Akhbar [Nouackchott], July 16; RFI, July 17). Much of the ground element for Operation Barkhane is likely to be drawn from the French Légion étrangère and the Troupes de marine, the successor to the French Colonial Infantry.

The implementation of Operation Barkhane, an apparently permanent defense agreement with five former French colonies, raises a number of important questions, not least of which is what attitude will be adopted by Algeria, the most powerful nation in the Sahara-Sahel region but one that views all French military activities there with great suspicion based on Algeria’s 132-year experience of French occupation. There is also a question of whether the new defense agreements will permit French forces in hot pursuit of terrorists to cross national borders of G-5 nations without obtaining permission first. The permanent deployments also seem to present a challenge to local democracy and sovereignty while preserving French commercial and political interests in the region. For France, Operation Barkhane will enhance French ability to fend off Chinese commercial and trade challenges and allow France to secure its energy supplies while disrupting terrorist networks and containing the threat from southern Libya.

This article first appeared in the July 24, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Burkina Faso Carries Out Mass Arrests of Military Mutineers

Andrew McGregor

July 21, 2011

In the wake of months of violent rioting by Burkina Faso’s military, police and civilians, the leaders of the West African nation’s military have announced the dismissal of 556 soldiers, 217 of whom will face charges ( L’Observateur Paalga [Ouagadougou], July 14; LeFaso.net, July 15). The move was announced at a press conference held by the Chief of General Staff of the Forces armées nationales (FAN), Brigadier General Naber Traoré and Brigadier General Diendéré Gilbert (FasoZine [Oougadougou], July 14).

General Nabéré Honoré Traoré (left) and General Gilbert Diendéré (right)

The Burkinabé armed forces have received extensive military assistance and training from the United States in recent years. Many officers have gone to the United States for additional training and the army is an important element in the U.S.-backed Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, June 4, 2010).

President Blaise Compaoré has angered many in the country by announcing his intention to run for yet another term in 2015 in defiance of Article 37 of the Burkinabé constitution, which forbids a president from seeking more than two terms (L’Observateur Paalga [Ouagadougou], July 7). Compaoré came to power in a 1987 coup that saw the murder of his predecessor, the charismatic Captain Thomas Sankara, who had himself taken power in a 1983 Libyan supported coup organized by Compaoré. Compaoré initially ruled alongside two long term allies and fellow Marxists, Captain Henri Zongo and Major Jean-Baptiste Boukary Lingani, but in 1989 he abandoned Marxism and had both men arrested, quickly tried and executed on charges of trying to overthrow the government. Since then he has been re-elected four times in disputed elections that saw him win vast majorities. Observers have cited the “Burkinabé Paradox,” referring to the nation’s steady economic growth over the past five years and the complete lack of impact this has had on the country’s stifling poverty (Jeune Afrique, June 26). Wealth distribution remains largely limited to the small national elite tied to President Campaoré.

The military protests occurring across Burkina Faso typically consist of troops taking to the streets, firing randomly or into the air, pillaging shops and destroying property. Incidents of rape have also been reported. Their grievances usually consist of demands for better pay, an end to cronyism and political bias in promotions and an end to corruption in the officer corps, which the troops say fails to represent their interests  (L’Observateur Paalga [Ouagadougou], July 7).

Civilian unrest began in the town of Koudougou (100 km west of Ouagadougou) on February 22, with demonstrators protesting the high cost of living and the culture of impunity and use of torture in the police that allegedly led to the death of a student in detention. The protests were received by tear gas and bullets and after two days of violence, six people were dead and the protests began to spread to other cities where police stations were burned and businesses looted (AFP, April 22). Strikes have spread to various economic sectors, including gold mines and the all-important cotton industry.

The military unrest began in late March when soldiers forcibly freed some colleagues from a prison in Fada N’Gourma who had been arrested for rape and other sex crimes (AFP, April 7).

On April 14 and 15, members of the Régiment de sécurité présidentielle (RSP – Presidential Guard) rioted until they received overdue wages and housing and food allowances they had been promised. During their rampage they looted the capital, stole cars and motorcycles and committed numerous acts of rape (AFP, April 20). The president fled the capital to his home town of Ziniaré. Army chief General Dominique Djindjéré, whose home was burned down by rioting RSP members, was replaced by Brigadier Honoré Naber Traoré on April 15 as part of sweeping changes in the military and police leadership (AFP, April 15). From Ouagadougou the unrest spread to the cities of Po, Tengkodogo and Kaya, where troops torched the home of a regimental commander and looted the home of the regional military chief (AFP, April 18).

On April 17, soldiers from the Po garrison near the Ghana border took over the town, looting, stealing vehicles and firing into the air in a three day rampage that also included a number of cases of rape (AFP, April 17).

Newly-appointed Prime Minister Luc Adolphe Tiao committed to subsidizing some essential goods and compensating victims of military and police mutinies in late April. Tiao, a journalist and former ambassador with no experience in governance, appointed a new cabinet in mid-April, but the 15 new ministers were all closely tied to the President (AFP, April 22). Campaoré himself became the new Defense Minister. All regional governors in Burkina Faso were later replaced on June 8, though three governors were simply transferred to different regions. Another three are active soldiers in the Burkinabé military (AFP, June 9).

On April 27 and 28, police officers in Ouagadougou defied a curfew and took to the streets, firing their weapons into the air to demand better pay and working conditions. Gunfire was also reported in Bobo Dioulasso (Burkina Faso’s second largest city), Dedougou, Gaoua and Banfora (Xinhua, April 28). Police agreed to end country-wide protests following two days of negotiations with the government. Large numbers of students gathered on April 20 to protest the police mutiny by setting fire to a police station, but were met with live fire from the police (AFP, April 29).  Soon after the police mutinies, national police chief Rasmane Ouangraoua was sacked and replaced by the former police commissioner in Ouagadougou (AFP, May 5).

National Gendarmerie officers from Camp Paspanga in Ouagadougou spent the night of May 23 firing their weapons into the air to demand bonuses similar to those granted to the Presidential Guard. Just as they returned to barracks in the morning, students took to the streets as part of a nation-wide protest in support of striking professors. At the same time, protesters in Koudougou burned down the mayor’s house to protest the closure of 40 businesses that had failed to pay taxes (AFP, April 28).

The looting and random gunfire of riotous troops that persisted throughout the night of June 2 in Bobo Dioulasso was followed the next day by tradesmen and businessmen attacking the city hall, customs office and several other government buildings. The city’s mayor, Salia Sanou, did not find their reaction surprising: “They have had enough. I understand them. We promised to compensate them yesterday [for an earlier episode of military looting]. They kept their calm and now they get looted again” (AFP, June 2).

On June 3, the once-more loyal Presidential Guard teamed up with a unit of para-commandos and local police to put down the Bobo Dioulasso mutiny. Six mutineers were killed (as well as a teenage girl caught in the crossfire) and 57 arrested. The use of force was authorized after state intelligence informed the president the looting mutineers were being joined by former soldiers, men from other camps and even some who had nothing to do with the military (Jeune Afrique, June 26).

The breakdown in security and military discipline in Burkina Faso is especially worrisome in a region where elements of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have been highly active in recent months.

This article was originally published in the July 21, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

AFRICOM’s Operation Flintlock: New Partners and New Questions

Andrew McGregor

June 4, 2010

In the midst of a major drive to increase security in Africa’s Saharan and Sahel nations, American, African and European military forces have just concluded the latest version of Operation Flintlock (May 2-23), one in a series of multinational military exercises designed to foster and development international security cooperation in North and West Africa. The latest exercises came at a time of growing concerns over large-scale drug trafficking in the region and kidnappings carried out by elements of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The maneuvers are conducted as part of the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP).

Operation Flintlock
1200 soldiers participated in the latest maneuvers, including 600 U.S. Marines and Special Forces, units from France and Britain and smaller European contingents from Germany, Spain and the Netherlands (L’Essor [Bamako], May 5). African countries with military representation included Mali, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania, Nigeria, Chad, Senegal, Tunisia and Morocco. The exercises were headquartered out of a Multinational Coordination Center set up at Camp Baangre in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou. Malian Special Forces received training in responding to hostage-taking operations (as carried out by AQIM). Many of the Malian participants were veterans of fighting Tuareg rebels in northern Mali.

The new participant in these exercises was Spain, once a formidable colonial power in Africa. Though the Flintlock command center in 2008 was at the Spanish-American joint use naval base at Rota, this was the first time Spanish troops joined the exercises. There were suggestions in 2008 from AFRICOM leader General William Ward that Rota might make a suitable permanent headquarters for AFRICOM—whose HQ is currently based in Stuttgart, Germany—as no African nation appears prepared to host it on the continent (El Pais, April 16). Other than the Spanish garrisons in the tiny coastal colonies of Ceuta and Melilla, it has been 16 years since the Spanish ended their military presence in Africa by withdrawing an air detachment in Equatorial Guinea (El Pais, May 24). The Spanish Defense Ministry withheld details on its participation for fear the mission might be mistaken for a rescue team going after two Spanish citizens currently being held hostage by AQIM (El Pais, May 24).

Senegal was another new participant, sending 38 Special Forces soldiers.  Their commander, Major Cheikhna Dieng, said their presence was part of Sengal’s preparations for al-Qaeda infiltration efforts (Agence de presse Sénéglaise, May 11). Senegal is over 90% Muslim. Despite the stated objective, there were apparently some concerns that the Senegalese Special Forces trained in Operation Flintlock might be deployed against separatists in southern Senegal’s Casamance region, where elements of the Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC) have been engaged in a low-level conflict with the government since the 1980s (Agence de presse Sénéglaise, May 11).

Despite having the largest and most effective military in the Sahara region, Algeria has always been a small player in the exercises. Despite its efforts to draw Algeria into coordinated counterterrorism efforts, Washington’s reluctance to provide Algeria advanced military equipment due to Israeli objections has caused dissatisfaction in Algiers, which is now looking to its old Cold War supplier, Russia, for sophisticated military supplies it cannot obtain from the United States (El Khabar [Algiers], May 24; Khaleej Times [Dubai], May 4).

The exercises began a week after Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Burkina Faso, and Niger established a “Joint Operational Military Committee” at Tamanrasset on April 20, tasked with improving regional security and military cooperation. Libya initially signaled it would join, but later withdrew.

This article first appeared in the June 4, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor