Lome – Eight soldiers were killed on Wednesday and 13 wounded in a “terrorist attack” in northern Togo near the border with Burkina Faso, the government said, using a term typically designating jihadists.
Togo’s troops are deployed in the north of the country to try and contain a jihadist threat pushing south from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger where militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group operate.
The attack prompted the European Union to express alarm about the spread of jihadism to the region’s coastal states.
“At around 03:00 GMT, a forward operating base in Kpinkankandi was the scene of a violent terrorist attack by a group of unidentified heavily armed individuals. Sadly, among the security forces, eight have died and 13 were injured,” a statement read on national television said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but, Kpinkankandi is located near the border with Burkina Faso.
A senior security source in Togo who asked to remain anonymous told AFP that the soldiers were attacked by a group of 60 gunmen who arrived on motorbikes.
“They exchanged fire for more than two hours and then a reinforcement unit was hit by an improvised explosive device,” he added.
Soldiers had foiled an attack in November last year in the northern village of Sanloaga, making Wednesday’s attack the first to cause casualties.
Violence from armed groups and criminal networks is on the rise across West Africa.
‘Threat is spreading’
At a meeting of West African defence chiefs last week, Ghana’s Defence Minister Dominic Nitiwul said that in three years the region had suffered more than 5 300 terror-related attacks claiming around 16 000 lives.
A major concern is how the threat is spreading from the Sahel to northern parts of coastal Benin, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Togo.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday the attack “shows that the terrorist threat is spreading toward the countries of the Gulf of Guinea.
“Efforts must be redoubled to stop it before it is too late,” Borrell warned.
In April, five soldiers were killed in northern Benin in an ambush by gunmen while nine people were killed in February in the deadliest attack to date in the country.
“This territorial expansion by jihadists is going to progressively give birth to home-grown jihadist cells, made up of local recruits, that feed off of the local grievances,” wrote Mathieu Pellerin, Sahel researcher at the International Crisis Group.
Local issues include tensions over access to resources, stigmatisation of certain ethnic groups, presence of self-defence groups as well as criminal and trafficking gangs, he added in a report in French published earlier this year for the French Institute of International Relations.
“For coastal West African states, where for now the threat is contained in terms of intensity and limited geographically, there is still time to stop the security situation from deteriorating.”