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French airstrike targets extremists in Burkina Faso

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — At least eight members of Burkina Faso’s security forces are dead after a pair of attacks in the turbulent east, the country’s security minister said Thursday, while France’s military said it carried out an airstrike against extremists fleeing one of the scenes.

The West African nation is the latest in the region to wrestle with the growing threat from extremist groups that in recent months have found refuge in the forested east near the border with Niger.

In the first attack, seven soldiers were killed and two others were seriously wounded when their vehicle struck an explosive device between Gayeri and Bartieboubou on Wednesday, the minister told public radio. The soldiers’ convoy was deploying to the east as Burkina Faso steps up counterterror efforts there.

The second attack occurred Thursday when scores of heavily armed extremists invaded the Inata mining site in Soum province, killing one gendarme. Another gendarme was wounded and three others are missing.

The mining site is where three men, including an Indian and a South African, were kidnapped last month.

France’s military said it directed a drone toward the site of the attack and, after a request from Burkinabe authorities, sent two Mirage jets from an air base in Niger’s capital, Niamey.

The drone spotted “a column of several motorbikes leaving the area toward the north” and once there was no doubt about the group’s extremist nature, the airstrike occurred, the French military said in a statement. Results were still being assessed.

France’s West Africa-based Barkhane is the country’s largest overseas military operation.

Burkina Faso’s security situation has worsened this year with an attack on the army headquarters and the French embassy in March. The extremist threat at first was located in the country’s northern Sahel region, home to radicalized local preacher Ibrahim Malam Dicko. It has recently pushed into the forested east near the border with Niger.

Burkina Faso is part of a five-nation regional counterterror force, the G5 Sahel, that launched last year, and France has lobbied the international community to support it.

Still, the force “struggles to be fully operational” without appropriate financing, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita told the U.N. annual gathering of world leaders last week. Keita called on countries who pledged millions of dollars during a meeting in Brussels in February to “honor their engagements.”

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