Burkina Faso attack on Mansila army base fuels mutiny rumours

By Linnete Bahati Amimo, Samuel Lando & Mamadou FayeBBC Monitoring & BBC Afrique

Reuters Burkina Faso's Ibrahim Traore talks into a microphone at the Russia-Africa summit in 2023Reuters

Junta leader Capt Ibrahim Traoré has kept a low profile since the attack on the army base

An attack that reportedly killed over 100 soldiers on an army base in Burkina Faso has snowballed into speculation about unrest in the security forces, in a country where the military has been in power since 2022.

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

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

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

The following day, there was an explosion near the headquarters of the state television.

What happened in Mansila?

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

Around 100 soldiers were killed and many others were missing, reports say, adding that several hundred civilians fled Mansila for neighbouring 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 motorbikes and shooting relentlessly in a remote village of 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.

Commenting for the first time since the attack, Capt Ibrahim Traoré said the military had launched an operation after the attack, and sent reinforcement troops.

But he did not address a claim by JNIM that it carried out the attack.

What about the explosion at the state broadcaster?

A day after the Mansila attack, a rocket hit the parking area of state TV 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 taken care of by the presidential health service”.

Was the RTB incident part of a mutiny?

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

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 took power in 2022, kicking out French troops, saying they had not done enough to tackle the jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The junta has meanwhile deepened military ties with Russia.

Military sources told French broadcaster RFI that the 12 June state TV attack was linked 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 Capt Ibrahim Traoré was chairing a cabinet meeting. Consequently, Capt Traoré’s security had to “exfiltrate” him, Jeune Afrique said.

But Capt Traoré denied reports of mutiny within the army.

“It’s absolutely not the case. We are here,” he said, in an address from outside the RTB office on Thursday.

He claimed that a rocket was launched into RTB’s courtyard by mistake by those who were guarding the television station. He said nobody died although some people were injured.

Local media outlets in Burkina Faso have downplayed the RTB incident and the Mansila attack, perhaps over fears 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 stayed quiet about the attacks?

RTB Capt Traoré lies down while giving bloodRTB

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

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

Capt Traoré’s predecessors, Lt Col Paul-Henri Damiba and Roch Marc Kabore, were ousted in September and January 2022, respectively, for failing to effectively deal with militant attacks.

Capt Traoré has repeatedly expressed a determination to eradicate the militants since he took power. Under his watch, 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, opening the junta leader to the same criticism he once levelled against his predecessors.

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

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

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

He has since appeared on national TV.

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

“For some time now, rumours on social networks have been reporting mood swings and mutinies 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 on Tuesday.

“These allegations aim to sow doubt, to create psychosis in public opinion, and to demoralise the troops strongly engaged in 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 Capt Traoré and his government of failing to address the security crisis, despite acquiring modern military equipment.

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

“Mansila, the pain is very deep. The least that can be done is to 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 showed the military rulers’ “lack of compassion”.

Others defended the junta and accused “jealous forces” of working to destabilise 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 is 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.

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

More Russian mercenaries were recently flown from Mali to “protect” the Burkinabè leader in the aftermath of the attack, according to reports.

More BBC stories from Burkina Faso:

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

More BBC stories from Burkina Faso:

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