Togo suffers its first deadly jihadist assault

Yesterday, at least 8 Togolese soldiers were killed in a large-scale assault on a military position in the country’s north. While the littoral West African state suffered its first jihadist attack late last year, yesterday’s raid represents the first loss of life from such violence in Togo. 

Between May 10 and May 11, around 60 gunmen on motorcycles assaulted the Kpinkankandi military base, which sits in Togo’s northern Kpendjal Prefecture just across the border from Burkina Faso. According to locals, the battle over the base then raged most of the night before the jihadists ended the assault. 

As the battle was raging, nearby Togolese troops attempted to rush to the base to provide reinforcements but were struck by an improvised explosive device (IED) – the first such incident witnessed by Togo. 

Togolese authorities later confirmed that 8 soldiers were killed and 13 others were wounded from both the base attack and subsequent IED. 

No group has taken responsibility for the raid as of the time of publishing. However, given the area from which the militants came from in Burkina Faso, they were likely members of Al-Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM). 

This is just the second suspected jihadist attack inside Togo since Nov. 2021. That month, another military outpost in Togo’s northern Kpendjal Prefecture was assaulted by suspected JNIM militants. The militants were repelled during that attempt. 

As violence has worsened across much of Africa’s Sahel region, Togo has largely played a proactive role in shoring up its defenses along its borders with Burkina Faso. For instance, in 2018, it launched its Operation Koundjoare, deploying hundreds of troops along the border region.

For several years the military operation has seemingly staved off any potential attacks within Togolese borders. However, yesterday’s deadly assault may be a foreboding harbinger of a worsening security situation for the small West African state. 

Jihadist Violence Spreading Into West Africa’s Littorals

In addition to the attack in Togo, its neighbor Benin has also witnessed several jihadist raids within its borders over the last month. These assaults represent just the latest in a growing escalation of jihadist violence spilling over from Burkina Faso into littoral West Africa. 

On May 8, suspected JNIM militants also targeted a Beninese military outpost near Porga, an area also close to the Burkina Faso and Togo borders. That attempted assault was reportedly repelled by Benin’s forces.

A little over a week earlier on April 26, a Beninese policeman was killed in a jihadist attack on a police station near Benin’s borders with Niger. This assault was later claimed by JNIM in an unofficial audio statement. 

And on April 11, five Beninese soldiers were killed by an IED in Benin’s northern Pendjari National Park in the country’s northwest, marking one of the country’s deadliest jihadist attacks since 5 park rangers, a park official, a French advisor, and a Beninese official were killed in a series of IED’s in Benin’s northeastern Parc W on Feb. 8, 2022. 

According to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal, Benin has suffered at least six IED blasts since Dec. 2021, marking a worrying sign of its deteriorating security in its northern reaches. 

Meanwhile, Ivory Coast has also seen its fair share of jihadist violence over the last year. Its most recent attack, in which one gendarme was killed in the country’s northeast, occurred in March of this year. 

In all three countries, Togo, Benin, and Ivory Coast, jihadist violence has spilled into their borders from their common neighbor Burkina Faso. Whereas JNIM once used countries like Ivory Coast and Benin as rear bases to stage attacks into the extremities of Burkina Faso, this role has now been reversed. 

As jihadist violence, particularly from al-Qaeda’s JNIM, continues to spread southward in deadlier fashion, West Africa’s littoral states will have to develop more effective strategies and stemming the now more frequent flow of attacks. 

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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