Without making any noise, the Beninese army is swelling its ranks to carry out the anti-jihadist fight. Some 3,500 new recruits tasked with countering this threat are being deployed in the north of the country, according to several military sources. To meet the initial objective of the government, which announced in April 2023 an exceptional recruitment of 5,000 Beninese, 1,500 other soldiers will have to be hired and trained in the coming months. Since the first attacks in 2019, authorities have reported 43 civilians and 27 soldiers killed. “A hundred terrorists” were also neutralized by the Beninese Armed Forces (FAB), according to army spokesperson Ebenezer Honfoga.

Like Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast, Benin is under pressure from jihadist groups seeking to extend their zone of influence towards the Gulf of Guinea. The majority of attacks have not been claimed, but the presence in the region of fighters from the Islamic State (IS) group and the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) is attested by numerous sources.

To confront them, the government has focused on recruiting young people aged 18 to 30, mainly from Atakora and Alibori, two departments highly exposed to the jihadist threat. “They know the terrain and speak local languages. It’s also a breath of fresh air for young people who have few opportunities for professional integration,” says Oswald Padonou, professor at the National School of the Armed Forces in Porto-Novo. Before their deployment, they received military training of approximately six months under the supervision of “Beninese, American, Belgian and French instructors,” according to Jeannine Ella Abatan, researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). .

Two soldiers killed by homemade bomb

This exceptional recruitment aims first to support Operation “Mirador”, launched in 2022 by the Beninese army after the attack on a military post located on the border with Burkina Faso. Made up of 3,000 men, the anti-terrorist operation is currently led by Colonel Faizou Gomina, deputy chief of staff of the national guard. In the same context, Benin announced the same year “its desire to withdraw its troops deployed as part of the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Mali”, observes Juste Codjo, former senior officer of the Beninese armed forces. and professor at New Jersey City University: “A withdrawal that was completed in December 2023.”

This military redeployment seems to be bearing fruit today, since “the entire territory is controlled by the Beninese army, even if certain terrorist groups still have a capacity to cause harm, particularly with their explosive devices,” points out Oswald Padonou. Two soldiers patrolling the northern part of the country on motorcycles were killed on December 13 by a homemade bomb explosion.

However, those who carry out these operations against Beninese soldiers “are not all terrorists; there are also traffickers, highway robbers,” specifies political analyst Afouda Vincent Agué: “The army’s press releases relating to the attacks also mention unidentified armed individuals much more than jihadists. » As in neighboring countries, the anti-jihadist fight was accompanied by stigmatization of the Fulani community, the latter having been particularly targeted by jihadists in their recruitment in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, against a backdrop of tensions between farmers and nomadic breeders.

Forays into national parks

To open up the departments most affected by insecurity, the Beninese Agency for Integrated Management of Border Areas (Abegief) has launched a series of development projects, ranging from “the empowerment of women to support for youth entrepreneurship », underlines Afouda Vincent Agué. But the government’s strategy remains essentially security-related. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose military diplomacy has already been deployed in the Central African Republic and Mozambique, thus displayed his intention to strengthen security cooperation with Benin during his visit to Cotonou in April 2023. A South-South partnership South which has not yet concretely started, according to several sources.

Furthermore, in its fight against violent extremism, the government communicates little about its security actions. Apart from official press releases, it is difficult to access quantified data on civilian and military losses. “The government’s objective is to reassure national and international opinion and foreign investors, and thus avoid a reduction in tourism,” analyzes Beninese political scientist Nadia Nata.

In recent years, terrorist groups have continued their incursions into national parks in the north of the country, such as the W Nature Reserve, which covers an area of ​​more than 10,000 km2. Dozens of kilometers to the southwest, Pendjari Lodge, in the national park of the same name, has become a military base, protected since 2020 by Beninese soldiers and rangers from African Parks, a South African NGO.