U.S. Military Launches Flintlock Exercise In Africa

The United States military has launched its annual training exercise known as Flintlock to help African countries contain the threat of extremist violence in West Africa’s Sahel region. The two-week exercise involves soldiers from 29 countries being trained in counter-insurgency tactics, amid the surge in jihadi violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, which has killed thousands, displaced millions and plunged countries into crises. While most of the extremist activity is concentrated in the Sahel region, the violence is rapidly spreading to coastal states like Ghana, which is experiencing an upsurge in attacks by unidentified groups with possible links to jihadis.

The Exercise

The spread of extremist violence across the Sahel region shows that more than a military solution is needed to prevent the insurgency from infecting the coastal area, regional experts say. Widespread poverty, high inflation, and a shortage of jobs for young men provide favorable conditions for jihadi recruitment. Therefore, it is crucial to adopt a multi-pronged approach focused on building community resilience alongside more traditional security approaches.

This year’s Flintlock is taking place amid growing anti-French sentiment in West Africa. Mali and Burkina Faso have ended their military cooperation with France, complaining that the French military presence over several years has done little to stem the growth of jihadi violence. The military juntas ruling Mali and Burkina Faso are now getting military support from Russia, and Mali is also working with the private mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group.

The U.S. says it wants to help African countries stem the extremist threat before it spreads further across the region. U.S. Col. Rob Zyla, deputy commander for Special Operations Command Africa, said, “If the instability gets too broad or too bad, then it opens the aperture for other malign actors to try and influence and try and corrupt the messaging to gain access to some of these governments.” While the U.S. isn’t expanding the number of its soldiers in West Africa, U.S special operations forces will continue to conduct joint trainings with partners based on their needs and requests.

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