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.


  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, https://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3908

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