The army officer who has seized power in Burkina Faso amid popular protests in the West African country received military training in Botswana two years ago. Lt. Col. Isaac Zida, the former deputy commander of the presidential guard, who last month emerged as the country’s ruler ÔÇö at least on an interim basis was in 2012 selected to attend a five day military intelligence course in Botswana that was financed by the U.S. government, US officials have confirmed.
Zida had earlier in the same year attended a 12-day counterterrorism training course at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida that was sponsored by the Defense Department’s Joint Special Operations University. The United States generally is required by law to suspend military relations and security assistance to countries when elected civilian leaders are overthrown by an armed coup.
Washington has not taken that step with Burkina Faso but has condemned the military takeover and urged a quick restoration of civilian rule. “We are certainly encouraging movement to a civilian-led transition and then, of course, elections,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. Citing a “power vacuum” and the unclear makeup of Burkina Faso’s interim government, Psaki said U.S. officials had not decided whether to cut off aid.
“The situation on the ground now is still very fluid,” she added. The U.S. government has allocated more than $15 million in counterterrorism funding for Burkina Faso over the past two years. Zida and the military took power after longtime president Blaise Compaor├® fled the country under duress from huge crowds angry with his plan to rewrite the constitution to keep himself in charge. About 20 U.S. military personnel are assigned to the U.S. embassy in Ouagadougou, the capital, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Vanessa Hillman, a Pentagon spokeswoman.