Jihadists kill dozens across northern Togo

Over the last three days, almost 30 people have been killed by suspected jihadists in attacks on five separate villages in northern Togo. A sixth attack, a reported improvised explosive device (IED), was also recorded in the littoral West African country. 

Beginning on July 13, one individual was abducted from the village of Bombengou in Togo’s northern Kpendjal Prefecture of its Savanes Region. The man was found the next day riddled by bullets. No group has taken responsibility for the man’s death, though local reporting has alleged he worked for the Togolese government reporting against jihadist movements. 

A day later on July 14, Togo suffered its worst day of jihadist violence to date. Over the course of that night, the villages of Kpemboli, Blamonga, Lalabiga, and Sougtangou were attacked near simultaneously. While all existing close to the borders with Burkina Faso, three of the villages sit in the Kpendjal Prefecture while the last village, Kpemboli, sits within Togo’s northern Tône Prefecture. 

Estimates have varied of the total number of civilians killed. Local Togolese officials have counted at least 25 killed in the assaults on the four villages. Others have put the total closer to 30 civilians killed.

And yesterday, while traveling to inspect the aftermath of one of the attacks, the commissioner of Mandouri, the seat of Kpendjal, ran over an IED along the way. Local reporting vacillates between saying that at least one person was killed by the blast and that the commissioner and two of his aides were wounded

This is just the second reported IED inside northern Togo. The first occurred in May when Togolese soldiers were hit by an explosion en route to reinforce a base that was under attack by jihadists. The assault on the base killed at least 8 Togolese soldiers while another 13 were wounded. 

Al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) later claimed the raid on the base, marking the first time it publicly announced it was active inside Togo. JNIM is likely behind much of the jihadist violence inside Togo and much of littoral West Africa. 

As violence has worsened across much of Africa’s Sahel region and seeps into littoral West Africa, 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, the West African state has now struggled to stave off attacks within its territory since the aforementioned jihadist attack in May. 

The recent high rate of jihadist activity in northern Togo has also caused some confusion. On July 9, at least 7 civilians were killed in an explosion near the town of Marba in Tône. 

While initially reported as an IED, the Togolese government later admitted that it mistakenly killed the civilians, mostly children, in an airstrike it thought was against jihadists

Despite largely escaping the growing jihadist violence out of Africa’s Sahel over the last several years, Togo has now suffered at least 10 attacks within its borders since Nov. 2021 (see above map for more). 

In neighbor Benin has also suffered its fair share of jihadist violence as has nearby Ivory Coast. Ghana has so far been spared from the violence, though this does not mean Ghanians are not fighting for jihadists in the Sahel. Indeed, it is possible that as many as 200 Ghanians are within the ranks of both al Qaeda and the Islamic State in the region. It is likely a matter of time before Ghana also suffers its first attack.

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 dedicate resources to 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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