At least 47 people were killed in an ambush attack in Burkina Faso on Wednesday by suspected Islamist militants, the latest incident amid ongoing violence that has increasingly gripped Africa’s Sahel region in recent years.
The Associated Press reported that state authorities recorded a death toll of at least 30 civilians and 17 soldiers and volunteer pro-government fighters after a group of suspected extremists ambushed a convoy near the northern town of Arbinda.
State media reported that Burkina Faso troops fought back and killed 16 militants, though a security source told Reuters that the number was at least 58.
While no group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, it follows a series of other instances in which groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State have targeted government security forces, including one recently that killed 30 people, including 15 soldiers and four volunteer fighters, the AP reported.
Last week, suspected Islamist militants killed 12 Burkina Faso soldiers in an ambush attack in the western portion of the country.
Ibrahim Kagone, a journalist in the nearby town of Dori, told the AP on Wednesday that local communities were “shocked and concerned about the escalation of terrorist [attacks] against civilians in the region.”
Concerns and outrage among citizens sparked protests last month demanding more direct action from the government to curb the violence, which ill-equipped state forces have for years struggled to contain.
In response to the demonstrations, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore fired his ministers of defense and security and took on the defense role himself.
Countries across the Sahel region, including Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, have faced continued attacks by Islamist groups, prompting leaders to call on the international community to provide further aid in fighting the extremists.
While French and United Nations forces have provided some assistance in the region, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari earlier this year called on the U.S. to move its U.S. Africa Command headquarters from Germany to the African continent to provide a more direct response.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at the time that the headquarters would not be moved, noting that during its 2007 founding there were concerns within the African continent about a heavy U.S. military presence there.
The upfront costs of moving the headquarters have also deterred U.S. officials from relocating it for years.