Flintlock Exercise Trains Africans to Handle Defense
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 17, 2005 There is more than one way to fight terrorism, as U.S. servicemembers participating in Exercise Flintlock '05 are finding.
The biennial exercise now under way in Africa is designed to enhance African nations' ability to patrol and control their own territory.
The exercise also seeks to improve coordination among the nations of the Sahara region as they work against violent extremists, said U.S. Ambassador to Senegal Richard A. Roth. Roth spoke with Pentagon reporters from Senegal's capital of Dakar today.
Under the auspices of U.S. European Command, the exercise began June 6 and will run through June 26. More than 1,000 U.S. personnel will participate, along with more than 3,000 African servicemembers from Algeria, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad.
These countries have a security problem, DoD officials said. The Sahara has long been a route for smugglers. Today, these smugglers traffic in goods, drugs, guns and humans. Violent extremists also use these routes -- including al Qaeda affiliate the "Salafist Group for Call and Combat," known as the GSPC. The group launched an attack June 12 in Mauritania that killed 12 Mauritanian soldiers to the loss of nine terrorists. Press reports indicate the group, which is based in Algeria, used the smugglers' routes to launch the attack.
Reports that Africans are returning to these terror groups from Iraq and Afghanistan also concern U.S. officials, Army Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Csrnko, the commander of Special Operations Command Europe, said.
Further, with the clampdown in the Middle East and Central Asia, reports indicate that terror groups are looking to the Sahara region for training areas and logistics bases.
Borders in the region are porous, and the land area is vast. The nations of the region must work together to seal them, officials said. The militaries of the region also must communicate with each other to pass on intelligence and track movements of terror groups. The exercise is designed to give the nations a chance to work together and gain confidence in each other.
The American troops are helping train military units in the countries. Csrnko said Flintlock '05 has already tested African units on airborne operations, and the nations have begun a command post exercise in Dakar. Trainers are also working with African soldiers on such basics as small-unit tactics, marksmanship, land navigation, and combat medic skills. American forces participating also stress human-rights training, DoD officials said.
U.S. Special Forces soldiers, civil affairs personnel, and Air Force Special Operations personnel are the main players in the exercise. Medical personnel from Landstuhl, Germany, are also participating in a medical/dental outreach to the people of the region.
The exercise is part of the greater Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative. This State Department-sponsored initiative aims to help African nations take control over what are effectively "ungoverned areas." The initiative has a large DoD presence in that the department is working constantly to train African militaries and improve their capabilities.
The initiative costs $16 million this year. Next year, the government is asking for $30 million for the initiative. In 2007 to 2011, the U.S. government would like to fund the initiative at $100 million per year. Officials said this is a small investment if it means a more stable and secure Africa.