The army officer who has seized power in Burkina Faso amid popular protests in the West African country was twice selected to attend counterterrorism training programs sponsored by the U.S. government, U.S. military officials said.
Lt. Col. Isaac Zida, the former deputy commander of the presidential guard, emerged Saturday as the country’s ruler — at least on an interim basis — after angry demonstrators attacked government buildings and forced Burkina Faso’s longtime strongman to flee the country.
In 2012, when he was a major, Zida 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, said Army Lt. Col. Mark R. Cheadle, a spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command.
That same year, Zida attended a five-day military intelligence course in Botswana that was financed by the U.S. government, Cheadle said.
The U.S. military has developed a close relationship in recent years with Burkina Faso, which has allowed the Pentagon to operate a secretive Special Operations base that it uses to conduct reconnaissance flights across West Africa.
Although the training he received was relatively brief, Zida’s experience carries echoes of other African military officers who went on to topple their governments after being selected by the U.S. government for professional military education courses.
In March 2012, an army captain in Mali who had attended a half-dozen military training courses in the United States led a coup that deposed his democratically-elected government. The captain, Amadou Sanogo, was ousted and arrested 18 months later, but not before pushing Mali into turmoil and enabling Islamist insurgents to take over much of the country.