GABORONE, Botswana — The French government says it will soon deploy a paramilitary police special forces battalion to Burkina Faso with the mandate of providing a rapid-response capability in the event of terrorist attacks anywhere in the West African sub-region.
Nearly two weeks ago, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for a terrorism attack that left 18 people dead and several others injured after gunmen stormed the Grand Bassam beach resort in Ivory Coast. The attack was the third to hit the region since November, having been preceded by similar attacks in the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou and the Malian capital Bamako.
The victims of the Ivorian attack included four French citizens and prompted a hastily organized meeting in which Ivorian President Alassane Ouatarra and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve discussed regional security and how to improve the fight against terrorism.
Addressing a press conference convened in Yamoussoukro after a series of closed-door meetings which were also attended by Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Aryault, Cazeneuve said the police special force to be stationed in Burkina Faso would enable France to implement coordinated rapid response operations with regional forces in the event of terrorist attacks.
“The desire to position this Gendarmerie team in Ouagadougou will enable us to react immediately and dispense advice and coordinate other responsive actions in the event of a terrorist crisis anywhere in West Africa. The GIGN (French paramilitary police) elements will intervene rapidly and provide partner special counterterrorism training in the event of terror attacks in the region," Cazeneuve said.
However, Cazenevue did not provide a timeline or the exact number of troops to be deployed. He said France wants to reassure its citizens and regional allies that it shares their concerns and is willing to expand the regional fight against terrorism.
France has received numerous threats from AQIM and in northwest Africa after it deployed the army to retake Northern Mali from the group and its affiliates early in 2013.
After ousting AQIM from northern Mali in 2014, the French Army further infuriated regional militias by deploying 3,500 counterterrorism special forces to northwest Africa under "Operation Barkhane."
Despite early successes, the operation has largely failed to prevent terrorist groups from expanding operations in the region.
At least 80 people have been killed in the three attacks that have hit Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast in the last five months.
According to security analysts, struggling West Africans will still face serious challenges in dealing with terrorism despite the French assistance.
"A committed assault against what is supposed to be a well-secured high-value target can be achieved fairly simply. States in the region simply don't have the resources to deal with the terror threat, so we should expect more of such attacks," Andre Colling, a security analyst with British crisis management firm Red24, told the BBC in London.
So far, more than 15 people have been arrested with the Ivorian attack. Early this week, Al Qaeda claimed yet another attack on the European Union military headquarters in Bamako, Mali. However, there were no casualties as the raid was repelled by security forces who killed four of the attackers.