Defence chiefs from West Africa’s ECOWAS bloc began a two-day meeting Thursday aimed at boosting military cooperation in a region that has suffered hundreds of attacks this year alone.

Among the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc are Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger — deeply impoverished nations struggling with jihadist insurgencies.

Coastal states Ghana, Benin and Ivory Coast are worried about spillover across their borders.

Addressing the region’s military representatives in Ghana’s capital Accra, Ghanaian Defence Minister Dominic Nitiwul said insecurity from armed groups and criminal networks was on the rise.

Nitiwul urged more intelligence sharing to better monitor militants and armed groups who were themselves also exchanging information across borders.

“As professionals, we must resolve to bury our differences imposed by nationality, culture, ethnicity… and forge ahead with greater collaboration,” the minister said.

“One of the expectations of this meeting is to achieve a common understanding of the threats.”

The minister said that in three years the region had suffered more than 5,300 terror-related attacks claiming around 16,000 lives.

More than 840 attacks took place in the first three months of 2022 alone, he added.

After military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, ECOWAS suspended those countries and imposed some economic sanctions.

But the bloc allowed representatives of those countries to participate in the security meeting due to the urgency, Nitiwul said.

Since it began in northern Mali, a jihadist insurgency involving Al-Qaeda affiliates and Islamic State militants has spread to Niger and Burkina Faso.

Jihadist regularly carry out attacks in northern and eastern Burkina Faso, killing more than 2,000 people since 2015 and displacing almost two million from their homes.

Niger’s Tillaberi region, a vast area on the borders of Burkina Faso and Mali, has been the scene of bloody attacks by both groups since 2017.

Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum has initiated dialogue with jihadist leaders in a bid to keep the peace.

But military efforts continue, with some 12,000 soldiers fighting in anti-jihadist operations, especially along the more than 1,400 kilometres (850 miles) of borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.

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© Agence France-Presse