The Pentagon is stepping up vigilance in West Africa after 19 people died Sunday in an al Qaeda-claimed attack at Grand Bassam, an Ivory Coast beach resort.
U.S. military personnel are restricted from traveling to five West African countries following recent militant attacks in the region, U.S. defense officials said Wednesday, according to a Reuters report.
The order limits unofficial travel by U.S. service members to Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Guinea, and Burkina Faso.
Grand Bassam is a popular weekend retreat a short drive from the Ivorian city of Abidjan, home to around 5 million people, AOL.com reported.
The attack came as the Ivorian government was working to revive a once lucrative international tourism industry devastated by civil war.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — its North African branch — claimed responsibility, saying the attack was revenge for a French offensive against Islamist militants in the Sahel.
The same group claimed responsibility for a January attack on a hotel and restaurant in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, that killed 29 people as well as a November hotel siege in Mali, Reuters reported.
“It’s just increased vigilance given the recent events that have happened in that area of the world,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, Reuters reported.
The order against unofficial U.S. military travel to the five West African countries stays in effect until June 30. Official travel to the five countries will continue, said Pentagon spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Baldanza.
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“Given the recent attacks in western Africa, we felt it prudent to make this decision at this time in an effort to ensure the safety of our personnel,” Baldanza said.
U.S. Africa Command has between 1,000 and 1,200 forces in Africa, mostly in training and support roles to help local security forces combat militants, according to Reuters.
The attack is a heavy blow for Ivory Coast, which has become one of the world’s top performing economies with annual growth averaging 9 percent since recovering a 2011 civil war and more than a decade of political turmoil, AOL reported.
After visiting the beach in Grand Bassam Wednesday and laying a wreath for the dead, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara promised the attack would not derail the country’s post-war revival. He tried to reassure local tourism workers.
“We want to tell the hotels that we must do everything so that life gets back to normal. We must not be intimidated, discouraged by the terrorists,” Ouattara said, according to AOL. “I am sure that this weekend the hotel business will return to normal.”
The largest economy in French-speaking West Africa, Ivory Coast is also the world’s top cocoa producer.
Three Ivorian army special forces soldiers died in the attack, as well as four French citizens and citizens from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Germany, Lebanon, Macedonia, Mali and Nigeria.