JNIM claims deadly assault in northeastern Togo

The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al Qaeda’s branch in the Sahel and much of West Africa, took credit for a significant assault on Togolese forces late last week. That attack left at least 17 soldiers dead near the vicinity of Tiwoli, a small locale near the borders with Benin and Burkina Faso. 

In a short communique released online, JNIM said its men “killed 16 tyrants, burned two cars, and captured 16 Kalashnikovs, 24 rifles magazines, and five motorcycles.” No other information or photos were released with the initial statement. 

The information provided by JNIM largely matches with local reporting. Togolese news sites reported that large columns of jihadists targeted a military outpost with vehicles mounted with heavy machine guns. Though local sources reported that the Togolese soldiers eventually repulsed the attack, at least 17 were killed in the process. 

Today’s communique is the second such claim of responsibility for an attack in Togo conducted by JNIM in the last two weeks. On Nov. 19, the al Qaeda branch also took credit for an assault on a Togolese military position near Sankortchagou, a locale also within Togo’s northeastern Kpendjal region. That assault, which was also reportedly repelled, left two Togolese soldiers wounded

JNIM has now claimed three attacks inside the littoral West African country so far this year. The first assault, another raid on Togolese troops that left at least eight soldiers dead in May, was also claimed in an unofficial audio statement, according to analyst Héni Nsaibia.

Since the first jihadist assault within northern Togo last November, the country has suffered at least 13 such jihadist attacks. The vast majority have taken place in its northeastern Kpendjal region while one has occurred in the northwestern Tône region. These raids have left at least 58 civilians and soldiers dead, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal

Meanwhile, Togo’s neighbor Benin has also witnessed three jihadist attacks so far this month. This includes a repelled assault on a Beninese military position near Karimana in the northeastern Alibori region on Nov. 10 and two repelled raids near military positions near Kerou in the northwestern Atakora region and Kalale in the northeastern Borgou region (which sits to the immediate south of Alibori). 

The raid near Kerou was likely perpetrated by JNIM, which maintains a strong presence in the Burkina Faso-Togo-Benin border areas. The assaults in Karimana and Kalale are unclear, as both JNIM and the Islamic State both operate on eastern side of northern Benin. 

Jihadist violence, which includes both locally-based units and jihadist units emanating from Burkina Faso, has continually worsened across the littoral West African states of Togo and Benin since last year. The nearby country of Ivory Coast has also seen its fair share of jihadist violence, though it has not publicly recorded an attack within its borders since March of this year

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 and recent from the Islamic State, 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. Recent efforts, especially a new proposed task force from the Accra Initiative, a security mechanism comprised of most Sahelian and Gulf of Guinea states, have not yet had clear results.

Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at 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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