According to US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, Burkina Faso’s interim President Ibrahim Traore has assured US diplomats that he has no intention of inviting Russian Wagner forces to fight Islamist insurgents in the country, reported the Reuters news site.
Concerns have been raised that Burkina Faso will follow in the footsteps of neighboring Mali, which hired mercenary fighters from Russia’s Wagner group to assist its army in fighting Islamist insurgents late last year.
Security has deteriorated since Wagner’s arrival in Mali, rights violations have been reported, and UN peacekeepers have been pushed out, according to Nuland, who has just returned from a West African tour.
We had the opportunity to meet with interim President Traore and his leadership team, which included his defense minister. He made it clear that only Burkinabe will defend their country. They have no plans to invite Wagner, she said during a digital media briefing.
Over the last decade, jihadist groups, some with ties to al Qaeda and the Islamic State, have waged an insurgency in the Sahel region south of the Sahara, gaining ground despite the presence of foreign troops and United Nations peacekeepers.
Thousands of people have been killed and over two million people have been displaced as the insurgency that began in Mali spread to neighboring countries and, more recently, to coastal nations south of the Sahel.
Frustrations over rising insecurity have prompted two military coups in Mali since August 2020, as well as two in Burkina Faso this year.
Both countries have agreed to hold elections in 2024 in order to restore civilian rule.
Nuland warned that insecurity would complicate the transition, but added that at least the civilians in charge of the election appear to be keeping the preparations on track.
Relations between Mali and the West have deteriorated as a result of the junta’s refusal to hold elections and its collaboration with Russian mercenaries, whom the United Nations has accused of summarily executing civilians and other human rights violations alongside Malian soldiers.
Mali and Russia have both denied this.
Wagner, staffed by Russian military veterans, has fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, Mali, and other countries. It was established in 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and its support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
Nuland stated that incidents of terror in Mali have increased by around 30% in the last six months, and Russian equipment is malfunctioning, citing the Oct. 4 crash of a Russian-made military plane in the northern city of Gao.
The United States’ ability to assist Mali in terms of security is severely limited, she said, noting that peacekeepers are barred from large swaths of the country’s insurgent-infested center.