Attack on army base fuels rumors of mutiny in Burkina Faso

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An attack that reportedly killed more than 100 soldiers at an army base in Burkina Faso has sparked speculation of unrest among security forces in a country where the army has been in power since 2022.

The junta has not commented on the attack but denies there was a mutiny.

Burkina Faso has been battling Islamist insurgents for years and about half the country is outside government control.

The jihadist group Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) has said it was behind Tuesday’s attack in the northern city of Mansila.

The next day there was an explosion near the state television headquarters.

What happened in Mansila?

According to several reports, on June 11, armed men attacked the military base, located near the border with Niger.

About 100 soldiers were killed and many others were missing, reports said, adding that several hundred civilians fled Mansila to neighboring towns in search of safety.

Five days after the attack, JNIM, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, said it was behind the attack and that dozens of soldiers had been killed.

The group shared a video showing a large quantity of weapons and ammunition that it said was captured during the attack.

There are also videos of JNIM fighters riding motorcycles and shooting mercilessly in a remote village with mud-walled buildings.

The BBC has not been able to verify the video.

The armed forces have since blockaded Mansila and it is not possible to enter the city without a military convoy.

What about the explosion at the state broadcaster?

A day after the attack on Mansila, a rocket hit the parking lot of state television Radiotélévision Burkinabé (RTB) in the capital Ouagadougou.

On its Facebook page, RTB described the event as a “shooting incident” that resulted in “two minor injuries, quickly resolved by the Presidential Health Service.”

Was the RTB incident part of a mutiny?

Even before the attacks on Mansila and RTB, there was speculation about internal tensions within the army.

Joining the public, soldiers had expressed frustration over the government’s inability to curb the security crisis following a series of high-profile attacks.

Like its counterparts in Mali and Niger, Burkina Faso’s junta came to power promising to end the jihadist insurgency.

But insecurity in Burkina Faso has increased dramatically since the military took power in 2022 and kicked out French troops, saying they had not done enough to tackle jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State. The junta has now deepened military ties with Russia.

Military sources told French broadcaster RFI that the June 12 attack on state television was related to the army’s “internal situation” and that “things are not good.”

Jeune Afrique, another French channel, reported that the missile was fired from the nearby presidential palace by unknown persons as military leader Captain Ibrahim Traoré chaired a cabinet meeting. Consequently, Captain Traoré’s security had to “exfiltrate” him, Jeune Afrique said.

Local media in Burkina Faso have downplayed the RTB incident and the Mansila attack, perhaps out of fear of a crackdown.

The junta has suspended several local and international media outlets accused of bias in their coverage of military operations, jihadist attacks and alleged human rights abuses by security forces.

Why have the authorities remained silent about the attacks?

Major military setbacks or security shortcomings are sensitive issues in Burkina Faso.

Captain Traoré’s predecessors, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba and Roch Marc Kabore, were ousted in September and January 2022 respectively for failing to effectively tackle militant attacks.

Captain Traoré has repeatedly expressed his determination to eradicate the militants since he took power. Under his watch, the military launched several counter-terrorism operations in the most volatile areas, using modern weapons from Russia, Turkey and China.

However, the security situation has continued to deteriorate, exposing the junta leader to the same criticism he once leveled at his predecessors.

Captain Traoré has largely kept a low profile since the attack on Mansila.

It took him three days to make his first public appearance. RTB broadcast images of him donating blood as part of a donation campaign.

During the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha on June 16, a statement from the junta leader was read out on RTB. Even this showed caution on the part of Captain Traoré, who usually appears live on RTB on such occasions.

While authorities have not spoken specifically about the attacks, they have denied reports of military discontent.

“For some time now, rumors on social networks have reported mood swings and mutinies in certain military barracks.

“This unfounded and misleading information is the work of individuals with bad intentions and small groups, with nefarious intentions,” reads a military press release published on Tuesday.

“These accusations are intended to sow doubt, create a psychosis in public opinion and demoralize the troops who are deeply involved in the struggle for the liberation of our people.”

How did the audience react?

In a rare public criticism, some social media users in the country accused Captain Traoré and his government of failing to tackle the security crisis despite acquiring modern military equipment.

“The coward Ibrahim Captain Traoré is in hiding,” said Sagnon, a Facebook page with 11,000 followers, expressing shock at the scale of the militant attack.

“Mansila, the pain is very deep. The least we can do is communicate, we need to know what happened,” said Idrissa Badini, a blogger with 7,100 followers on Facebook.

Another Facebook user, Henry Sebgo, said the lack of response showed the “lack of compassion” of the military rulers.

Others defended the junta and accused “jealous forces” of working to destabilize Burkina Faso and the Alliance of Sahel States – which also includes Mali and Niger.

Senator Kletus Official, another popular Facebook page, claimed that “enemies of the Alliance of Sahel States” were behind the missile attack on RTB.

What’s the latest news about Russia?

The two attacks took place about a week after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Burkina Faso and announced plans to send more military instructors to the country.

Having maintained very close relations with Burkina Faso and other Sahel countries in recent years, Russia is reportedly already taking steps to ensure the stability of Captain Traoré’s government.

According to reports, more Russian mercenaries have recently flown out of Mali to ‘protect’ Burkinabe’s leader in the aftermath of the attack.

More BBC stories from Burkina Faso:

A woman looks at her mobile phone and the BBC News Africa graphicA woman looks at her mobile phone and the BBC News Africa graphic

(Getty Images/BBC)

More BBC stories from Burkina Faso:

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