“It is a terrorist attack,” said Defense Minister Hamed Bakayoko, also acting Prime Minister, during a press briefing the same day as the deadly attack on an army post in the north, on the border with Burkina Faso, Thursday June 11. Even if the authorities want to be reassuring, there is no longer any doubt that the jihadist threat is becoming stronger towards the countries of the Gulf of Guinea in general and Côte d’Ivoire in particular. It is the first attack on Ivorian soil since the Grand-Bassam attack in 2016 (19 dead), while the neighboring countries – Mali, Burkina and Niger – have suffered an increase in jihadist violence for several years. But above all, this attack comes at a time when the Ivorian and Burkinabé forces are jointly carrying out an operation against the jihadists who are hiding near the Comoé river, which flows between the two countries. Among the Ivorian authorities, the example of Burkina Faso, driven by the jihadist spiral for five years, is in everyone’s mind.
Read also Ivory Coast: an army base targeted by a jihadist attack
An unprecedented scale attack
The assault carried out Thursday by jihadists in Kafolo of a mixed army-gendarmerie post left “a dozen dead” among the soldiers, according to the official balance sheet. Unlike the attack in Grand-Bassam, the work of suicide bombers who had opened fire against civilians on the beach and hotel terraces in the seaside resort, the attack on Kafolo was signed by experienced combatants against a military target.
“The answer will be commensurate with this attack. Côte d’Ivoire has the means to cope. It has demonstrated this in the past. I can assure you that the level of organization of our forces is such that their response will be rapid, “said Defense Minister Hamed Bakayoko on Thursday.
The country had regained some stability since 2011, after a decade of unrest, and had regained its position as an economic and political heavyweight of West Africa.
Read also G5 Sahel: “Without France, the situation in the region would be much worse”
La Katiba Macina and others
It started a bit like that in Burkina. Authorities downplay the magnitude of the threat. This is very worrying, says Mahoumoudou Savadogo, a researcher specializing in jihadism. If the “jihadists attacked an army post, it was because they were equipped and trained. That they knew the area. They can do it again ”in a political context marked by the presidential election in October.
For him, as for the researcher Lassina Diarra, author of The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the face of transnational terrorism, the Katiba Macina, a jihadist group of Malian origin, is trying to settle in the area known as the three borders (Mali, Burkina, Ivory Coast), and is even eyeing Ghana.
Katiba Macina, created in 2015 by Malian preacher Amadou Koufa, is affiliated with the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda. However, it was Operation “Comoé”, launched jointly by the Ivorian and Burkinabé armies in May to dislodge jihadists from the area, which seems to have launched the attack on Thursday.
“There was a hornet’s nest that we disturbed. It stings, but it makes sense, ”notes another security source. “We can say that this part of Ivory Coast was until then a kind of sanctuary for the jihadists”, explains Lassina Diarra.
“There are experienced jihadist fighters. The Ivorian army seems to have more capabilities than some others in the region, but, without collaboration with the other countries, it will be difficult ”, in a context of porous borders.
Read also Sahel: the hour of the Franco-African surge?
A fight that promises to be long
A military source nuances the rise of the Ivorian army: “Efforts have probably been made. But there we have ten dead against an assailant killed, less than 15 days after combat operations in this red zone. The soldiers had to be ready and sharp. Why is the balance sheet so heavy? “
To combat attempts to establish jihadists in the north, a senior source recently assured AFP that measures to monitor mosques and preachers had been taken, even in isolated areas, such as Kafolo.
She also stressed that the government had, as part of a better network of the territory, inaugurated or rehabilitated many police stations and gendarmeries across the country. Another important question is whether or not Ivorian fighters are among the jihadist forces. “For the moment, there does not seem to be any, or few,” according to Lassina Diarra. “The more endogenous jihadism, the harder it is to fight. We must not hope to uproot in 15 days years of establishment, ”warns Mahoumoudou Savadogo.
Read also French soldiers in Africa: a good investment?