July 25, 2021

In Burkina Faso, the apprentice soldiers of the future special forces are taking their classes

By Sophie Douce

Posted today at 02:41

Hamidou floats in his sand-colored trellis; a trickle of sweat runs from his forehead. Whatever the sun, this 22-year-old soldier doesn’t feel “Neither tired nor thirsty” and only think about one thing: “Catch terrorists” hidden in a building a few meters from him. The mission is risky, he is on the front line. One eye closed, the other behind the viewfinder of his AK-47, he is ready to shoot. Moving forward. Don’t tremble. Stay focused. Without a word, with a simple nudge to his comrade posted behind, he launched the assault. « Repos ! », interrupts the instructor. Hamidou takes a deep breath. This morning, it’s just an exercise, he can allow himself some awkward, hesitant gestures, but in a few weeks, he will be able to find himself, like the hundreds of other trainees, in front of real terrorists.

We are at the Commando Training Center and Special Operations Training (CEC-FOS) in Po, 140 kilometers south of Ouagadougou, the Burkinabe capital. Nearly 200 hectares of shooting fields, obstacle courses, in the heart of the hills and forests of Nahouri, not far from the Ghanaian border. A place where 1,600 trainees have been trained since its creation in 2019.

At the Commando Training and Special Operations Center (CEC-FOS) in Po in Burkina Faso, on June 1, 2021, soldiers prepare for suspended courses in a natural environment (left) and carry out technical combat exercises (to the right).

Early June, The world was able to spend two days there with the recruits before their deployment in operation, while jihadist fire and intercommunal reprisals continue to reach the country. In six years, the violence has killed several thousand people and forced more than 1 million people to flee. On June 5, at least 160 people were killed in Solhan, in the northeast. Burkina Faso had never known such a massacre.

Read also Burkina Faso: after the Solhan massacre, the death toll rose to 160

In the Po camp, the detonations echo night and day. The pace of the training is intense: tactical exercises, attack simulations, theoretical courses… This is where the special forces are trained. Different army units also participate in “hardening courses”. Ditto for a handful of foreign soldiers – ten a year – from Niger, Chad or Togo.

They all have the same objective: to face the terrorist threat. Hence those days spent shooting, fighting, running, “Twenty-four hours a day, six days a week! “, according to Rodrigue Compaoré, the commander of the center. Rest ? Limited to four hours daily. And again: in several times. Soldiers must learn “fractional sleep”. “That’s it, the commando spirit: pushing your limits, despite fatigue”, insists the battalion commander.

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