Islamic terrorists attacked the town of Arbinda and its military base in the northern Soum province of Burkina Faso. The attack resulted in the killing of 35 civilians — 31 of them women — who were fetching water at the time of the attack. After several hours of fighting, the military was able to successfully repel the attackers. The fight with the military left 7 soldiers and 80 of the terrorists dead; 20 soldiers were wounded. 

President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré said in a statement, “This barbaric attack resulted in the deaths of 35 civilian victims, most of them women.”  He praised the “heroic action of our soldiers” who fought the terrorists. Two days of national mourning were declared.

The attack began early on Tuesday morning when dozens of armed militants riding on motorcycles entered the town and simultaneously attacked the military base. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but both al-Queda and the Islamic State have been active in the region. 

Communications Minister Remis Dandjinou said, “People, women, for the most part, were getting water and got murdered in cold blood by the terrorists while they were retreating. We must show compassion with the population, that is why all flags will fly at half-mast for two days and all Christmas celebrations are canceled.”

Burkina Faso has a population of about 20 million and is predominantly Muslim, while about 20 percent of the population are Christians. 

Burkina Faso had been relatively free of violence and instability. Then, during the past five years, the violence from neighboring Mali gradually spread into the country.

The attacks from Islamic extremists began in 2012 in Mali. Then the French-led coalition began to initially push them back. The violence then spread to Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania (these five African countries make up the G5). 

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While most of the attacks in Burkina Faso have come from the north border, with Mali, and the east, in 2016 and 2017, Islamic terrorists attacked the capital city of Ouagadougou in spots popular with foreigners. 

Last month, terrorists attacked the convoy of a Canadian mining company in the eastern part of the country. During the attack 37 people were killed. 

Talks were held in Niger a few weeks ago between members of the G5 and France in order to come up with better ways for the nations to cooperate and support each other during terrorist attacks. While the French have been leading the way with coalition support the United Nations is also involved in the region — but could do more about committing troops. 

The United States has done some training with the troops in Burkina Faso and has several hundred troops in Chad, Niger and Mali. But the Trump administration is looking into pulling back most of the troops in Africa, including those in the recently completed Nigerien Air Base 201, which just became operational in November and cost $110 million.

With the United States looking to refocus most of its assets in near-peer potential adversaries like China and Russia, the White House has toyed with the idea of ending support of the French in Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso. This hasn’t played well with our French allies. The French have committed about 4,500 troops in the region to combat the extremists. 

Nearly 700 people have been killed and over half a million have become displaced because of the violence that has plagued the Sahel. The Sahel is a semi-arid area under the Sahara Desert; it spreads across the width of the continent.