Ghana’s Defense Minister, has disclosed that in three years, the West African sub-region, has suffered more than 5,300 terror-related attacks which have claimed around 16,000 lives.
Dominic Nitiwul, is mentioned by Agence France-Presse (AFP) a leading global news agency to have said this at a meeting of West African defence chiefs last week.
The disclosure comes in the woke of the killing of eight soldiers on Wednesday in a “terrorist attack” in northern Togo near the border with Burkina Faso, the government said, using a term typically designating jihadists.
Some 13 people were also wounded in the attack, marking potentially the first deadly raid on Ghana’s southern neighbour by armed groups, who have killed thousands in neighbouring countries.
Before dawn on Wednesday, a group of heavily armed gunmen ambushed an army post in the Kpendjal prefecture near the border with Burkina Faso, the government said in a statement.
Security analysts said the attack was likely carried out by a local al-Qaeda affiliate that is based in Mali but in recent years has spread south into Burkina Faso.
Groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda have carried out hundreds of attacks across the Sahel region of West Africa in recent years, focusing mainly on the landlocked countries of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali.
The Togolese 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, although the government blamed “terrorists”, without providing specifics.
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.
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.”
Togo had been spared the violence, which has forced millions to flee their homes, but security experts have warned about a spread in operations that could encompass coastal states like Togo.
In 2018, Togo’s military launched an operation to stop armed groups ghosting in from the north.
Security forces repelled an attack by gunmen on an outpost in the same area as Wednesday’s attack in November, without sustaining casualties. Togo said at the time that the attackers had come over the border from Burkina Faso.
Togo’s coastal neighbour, Benin, has seen a sharp rise in attacks near its northern border with Burkina Faso. Five soldiers were killed last month when an army convoy struck an improvised explosive device.
International partners led by France have spent billions of dollars and deployed thousands of troops to contain the attacks, which began in Mali in 2012 before spreading into Niger and Burkina Faso.
But the violence continues, especially in poor rural areas where armed groups blend in.
The insecurity has undermined democracy in countries where residents have become fed up with the violence and rallied for change. In Mali and Burkina Faso, the military have snatched power since 2020, promising to shore up security.