Burkina Faso is grappling with violence spearheaded by rebel fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIL.

Two suspected attacks have killed at least 18 people, including 16 vigilantes supporting the army, in Burkina Faso, security sources said on Friday.

Thursday’s attacks in the north and northwest of the country were the latest to hit a civilian auxiliary force that supports the military in a seven-year fight against rebels.

Landlocked Burkina Faso in West Africa is one of the poorest and most volatile nations in the world.

Since 2015, it has been grappling with violence spearheaded by rebel fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) groups that have killed tens of thousands and displaced nearly two million people.

The country is now the epicentre of a conflict that spilled over from Mali.

Thursday’s “first attack targeted an advance party of Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland [VDP] in Rakoegtenga”, a town in the northern province of Bam, a VDP official said.

Six auxiliaries and a woman died in the attack, the official said.

About 10 people were wounded, including some seriously, who were “evacuated to Ouagadougou for appropriate care”, he said.

The VDP official said the second attack killed about 10 vigilantes and a person in Nayala province in the northwest in the afternoon when a convoy they and soldiers were escorting was ambushed on the Siena-Saran road.

Security sources confirmed two “jihadist attacks” but gave no precise death toll, referring only to “a number of losses”.

The VDP, set up in December 2019, comprises civilian volunteers who are given two weeks of military training and then deployed alongside the army, typically carrying out surveillance, information-gathering or escort duties.

A surge in violence

Commentators worry that the poorly trained volunteers are easy targets for rebel fighters – and may dangerously inflame ethnic friction without proper controls.

Last week, about 60 women, girls and babies were abducted in the northern Djibo region while gathering wild fruit and other food, investigators said.

Violence targeting security forces and civilians has increased in recent months, especially in northern and eastern regions bordering Mali and Niger.

The escalating toll unleashed two military coups last year, launched by officers angered at failures to stem the bloodshed.

The latest strongman is Captain Ibrahim Traore, who on September 30 overthrew Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba.

Damiba seized power in January 2022 from the last elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore.

On December 29, military prosecutors said they were investigating a new attempt to “destabilise” the country.

aljazeera