Snapshot of U.S. Security Assistance to Burkina Faso

West Africa

Military Leader Lt. Col. Zida Meets with Opposition Leader on Nov. 2, 2014

With the recent military takeover in Burkina Faso, there is increasing attention on U.S. security assistance to the key U.S. counterterrorism ally. According to the Washington Post, soon after mass protest1s led to former president Blaise Comparore’s resignation, the country’s military suspended the constitution and staged what appears to be a military coup. While there is some hope that the new head of state, Lt. Colonel Isaac Zida, who received U.S. military training, will soon hand over the country’s reins to civilian leadership for a political transition, it seems unlikely he will do so by the African Union’s two week deadline. If he doesn’t transition power soon or agree to a new civilian-proposed transition plan, the United States will likely have to cut-off most U.S. foreign assistance to Burkina as required by U.S. law, which is aimed at promoting democratic and accountable governance. Canada has already put a hold on $35 million in aid to the West Africa country until a "legitimate and accountable civil authority has been re-established" in Burkina Faso.

Section 7008 of the FY 2014 Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act prohibits the United States from providing foreign assistance “to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree,” or “a coup d’état or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.” This includes assistance provided through the State Department and USAID and possibly Defense Department assistance that require State Department pre-approval, but it does not apply to U.S. arms sales to the country.

From Fiscal Year FY 2010 to FY 2014, the United States allocated an estimated $19.9 million in U.S. military assistance to Burkina Faso through several State or Defense Department-funded U.S. security assistance programs, with Defense Department aid accounting for about 83 percent of such assistance (see table below). In FY 2014, the United States appropriated only $250,000 through the State Department’s International Military Training and Education (IMET) program, compared to over $9.6 million allocated to Burkina Faso through the Defense Department. The State Department requested Congress to allocate $250,000 under IMET for Burkina Faso for FY 2015. Here are some key details about past and planned U.S. security assistance to Burkina Faso.

U.S. Security Assistance to Burkina Faso by ProgramAlthough the State Department lists Burkina Faso as a recipient of the Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR) Terrorist Interdiction Program (TIP) starting in FY 2013, the table does not reflect this fact because the State Department has not identified how much money is going to Burkina Faso for TIP. Similarly, the above table does not include data under the Defense Department’s classified, special operations training such as through Section 1208 of the National Defense Authorization Act as this information is not public.

The primary focus of U.S. security assistance to Burkina Faso has been on countering the terrorist activities of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) and other terrorist groups in Mali and the sub-region. Of the $19.9 million in total U.S. security assistance to Burkina Faso, $17.3 million (or about 87 percent) went to providing equipment and training specifically for counterterrorism purposes ($15.5 million under Section 1206 (allocated); $1.1 million under NADR (allocated); $324,552 under PKO (actual); $274,272 under CTFP (actual); $41,981 under Regional Centers (actual); and $19,809 under IMET (actual)). According to the Congressional Research Service, Defense Department assistance to Burkina Faso under the Section 1206 was aimed at enhancing Burkina Faso’s counterterrorism capabilities and logistics efforts.

Following a U.S.-installed drone base attached to the capital’s airport, the Defense Department operation, codenamed Creek Sand, has also carried out unmanned aerial surveillance missions across Mali and Mauritania, targeting fighters and operations of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Since this Defense Department operation may not require State Department approval, it may not be cut-off should the United States declare a military coup in Burkina Faso. This funding is also likely not included in the above table. As part of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCP) under the U.S. peacekeeping program (PKO), the United States also facilitated the establishment of a 1,000-person border security task force. 

From FY 2012 to FY 2013, the State Department also authorized a total of $18.5 million in commercial arms sales, including equipment related to military aircraft, personal protection and electronics, to Burkina Faso. Since the State Department has reported that many of these items have yet to be delivered, it’s likely the arms are planned to be delivered this and next year. Although the Obama Administration has adopted a new U.S. arms transfer policy that would likely result in the suspension of U.S. arms sales to Burkina Faso if the administration declares a coup in the country, the U.S. military coup law does not prohibit such arms sales.

The new head of state, Zida, was a beneficiary of U.S. security assistance to Burkina Faso aimed at countering AQIM. On two occasions, Zida was selected to attend U.S. sponsored counterterrorism training programs. In 2012, Zida attended a 12-day counterterrorism training course at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Later that year, he attended a five-day military intelligence course in Botswana financed by the United States. Around 20 U.S. military personnel are also stationed at the embassy in Ouagadougo; however, this figure does not account for forces deployed as part of Operation Creek Sand or those forces who are part of the Joint Special Operations Air Force Detachment in the capital.

In addition to the above total U.S. counterterrorism assistance, the United States also provided small levels of U.S. security assistance aimed at improving Burkina Faso’s security sector governance. Under both the IMET and CTFP programs last year (FY 2013), the U.S. government provided training on classes such as security sector reform issues in West Africa, managing security resources in Africa, and Senior Executive Seminars, which all have some level of training on good governance issues. For FY 2014, the State Department indicated that the similar types of training will be given to Burkinabe soldiers as well as a course titled “Law of Armed Conflict and Human Rights.”

As the United States continues to watch the situation develop in Burkina Faso, it will be important to pursue an approach that puts a priority on promoting participatory, accountable governance. The U.S. Congress adopted the military coup law to indicate to the world that this is U.S. priority as well as recognition that without such governance long-term human security is limited. As the situation in Burkina Faso moves forward, it will be critical to closely monitor the situation.