Burkina Faso attack on Mansila military base fuels mutiny rumors

By Linnete Bahati Amimo, Samuel Lando and Mamadou Faye, BBC and BBC Africa monitoring

Reuters Ibrahim Traoré of Burkina Faso speaks into a microphone at the 2023 Russia-Africa summitReuters

Junta leader Captain Ibrahim Traoré has kept a low profile since the attack on the military base.

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

The military junta leader has since appeared on state television in an attempt to debunk the rumours.

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

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

The next day an explosion occurred near the state television headquarters.

What happened in Mansila?

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

Around 100 soldiers were killed and many others were reported missing, adding that several hundred civilians fled Mansila towards neighboring towns in search of safety.

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

The group shared a video showing a large amount of weapons and ammunition that it says were captured during the assault.

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

The BBC has not been able to verify the video.

Since then, the armed forces have blocked Mansila and it is not possible to enter the city without a military convoy.

For the first time since the attack, Captain Ibrahim Traoré said the military had launched an operation after the attack and had sent in reinforcement troops.

But he did not address JNIM’s claim that he carried out the attack.

What about the explosion at the state broadcaster?

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

On its Facebook page, RTB described the event as a “shooting” that caused “two minor injuries, quickly treated by the presidential health service.”

Was the RTB incident part of a riot?

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

Along with the public, soldiers had expressed frustration at the government’s failure to contain the security crisis after 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 army seized power in 2022, expelling French troops, saying they had not done enough to confront jihadist groups linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Meanwhile, the junta has deepened military ties with Russia.

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

Jeune Afrique, another French outlet, reported that the rocket was fired from the nearby presidential palace by unidentified individuals while military leader Captain Ibrahim Traoré was chairing a cabinet meeting. As a result, Captain Traoré’s security had to “exfiltrate” him, Jeune Afrique said.

But Captain Traoré denied reports of mutiny within the army.

“That is not the case at all. “We are here,” he said Thursday in a speech from outside the RTB office.

He claimed that the TV station’s guards mistakenly launched a rocket into the RTB yard. No one was killed, although some people were injured, he said.

Local media in Burkina Faso have downplayed the RTB incident and the Mansila attack, perhaps fearing 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?

RTB Captain Traoré lies down while donating bloodOTR

The junta leader’s first public appearance since the attacks was for a blood drive.

Major military setbacks or security failures 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 address militant attacks.

Captain Traoré has repeatedly expressed his determination to root out militants since taking power. Under his leadership, the army 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 Mansila’s attack.

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

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

He has since appeared on national television.

Although authorities have not commented specifically on the attacks, they have denied reports of military unrest.

“For some time now, rumors have been circulating on social media about mood swings and riots in certain military barracks.

“This unfounded and misleading information is the work of ill-intentioned individuals and small groups with nefarious designs,” reads a military press release published Tuesday.

“These accusations are intended to sow doubts, create psychosis in public opinion and demoralize the troops strongly committed to the fight for the liberation of our people.”

How did the public react?

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

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

“Mansila, the pain is very deep. The least you 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 reaction demonstrated the military rulers’ “lack of compassion.”

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, alleged that “enemies of the Alliance of Sahel States” were behind the rocket attack on RTB.

What’s the latest with Russia?

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

Russia, which has cultivated very close relations with Burkina Faso and other Sahel countries in recent years, is already taking steps to ensure that Captain Traoré’s administration remains stable.

More Russian mercenaries were reportedly flown in from Mali recently to “protect” the Burkinabe leader after the attack.

More BBC stories from Burkina Faso:

Getty Images/BBC A woman looking at her mobile phone and graph BBC News AfricaGetty Images/BBC

More BBC stories from Burkina Faso:

Leave a Comment