At least 51 soldiers killed in Friday’s attack on northern Burkina Faso

Ouagadougou — At least 51 soldiers were killed when troops were ambushed in northern Burkina Faso on Friday, the military said Monday.

The incident came two days before France formally declared the end of its military operations in the West African country, which in 2015 sent about 400 troops to help fight unrest spreading from neighboring Mali. French special forces were dispatched.

The soldiers were ambushed in Oudaran province, in Burkina Faso’s Sahel region that borders Mali.

The provisional death toll was revised from eight previously reported on Monday after an additional 43 bodies were found, the military said.

While he did not directly blame anyone for the attack, he said about 160 “terrorists” had been killed in the counter-attack airstrikes, up from about 60 in a previous statement.

Burkina Faso is one of several West African countries grappling with a terrorist uprising that took root in Mali after the 2012 Tuareg uprising.

Violence continues in neighboring countries and beyond, despite costly international military interventions and UN peacekeeping operations. Thousands have died and millions have been displaced from their homes in the sub-Sahelian region.

Since 2020, complaints over insecurity have spurred two coups in Mali and two in Burkina Faso, leaving power in the hands of juntas that have burned bridges with traditional Western allies.

Relations between France and Burkina Faso have deteriorated sharply over the past year, with Ouagadougou in January giving the former colonial ruler a month to withdraw his troops.

France pulled its troops out of Mali last year after the junta began working with Russian military contractors. Several other countries have since followed suit.

The withdrawal has raised concerns about the prospect of a conflict that has more than doubled the number of Islamist attacks since 2020, according to the Center for African Strategic Studies.

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders suspended its operations in Burkina Faso last week to conduct a risk assessment after two staff members were killed on February 8.

Thiam Ndiaga