At least eight Togolese soldiers were killed and thirteen wounded on Tuesday night in a "terrorist" attack in northern Togo, a first in the country previously spared from violence, the government announced.
"At around 3 a.m., a forward post of the Operation Kondjouaré, located in the locality of Kpinkankandi, was the object of a violent terrorist attack carried out by a group of as yet unidentified heavily armed individuals. Unfortunately, this attack left eight people dead and 13 wounded on the side of the defense and security forces," the government said in a statement broadcast on state television.
This is the first deadly "terrorist" attack in Togo, where the army is deployed in the north to deal with the threat of violence from jihadist groups in neighboring Burkina Faso. Togo had recorded only one attack in November 2021.
The government said it "strongly condemns this cowardly and barbaric attack," saying it was doing everything possible to "seek out and disable these armed terrorist groups."
According to a senior military official who requested anonymity, the soldiers were attacked by about 60 men on motorcycles.
"The exchange of fire lasted more than two hours. And it was one of the reinforcement teams that jumped on an improvised explosive device," he told AFP.
EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday that the attack "shows that the terrorist threat is spreading to the Gulf of Guinea countries.
"Efforts must be redoubled to stop it before it is too late," Borrell warned.
In November 2021, gunmen launched an attack on Togolese security forces in the far northern village of Sanloaga, with no casualties.
A recent series of border raids in countries south of the Sahel has confirmed fears that jihadist groups in the region are seeking to advance toward the coast.
Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are grappling with jihadist insurgencies, and neighboring states such as Ghana, Togo and Côte d'Ivoire are concerned about spillover to their borders.
In February, Benin already paid the price after nine people, including a Frenchman, were killed in the north in three homemade bomb attacks, the deadliest in the country.
The jihadist groups have set up rear bases in Burkina Faso and Mali to "spread to Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, and to a lesser extent to Togo, Ghana, Senegal and Guinea," says researcher Mathieu Pellerin, a specialist in political and security dynamics in the Sahel.
"This jihadist territorial outgrowth will progressively give rise to jihadist centers that are increasingly endogenous in these states, made up of local recruits who feed off the fragility" on the ground, he adds in a report published in February by the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri).
Faced with the growing threat, coastal states are getting organized, notably with the Accra initiative launched in 2017 by Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Togo, to strengthen their security cooperation.