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Multinational Exercise Sparks Change for Africa

By Maj. Eric Hilliard
Special to American Forces Press Service

NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain, Nov. 20, 2008 – U.S. Africa Command wrapped up a 14-nation exercise here today that leaders say was a big step forward in increasing African nations’ ability to manage their own security.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Senegalese soldiers practice exiting the ramp of a U.S. Air Force CV-22 in Bamako, Mali, Nov. 12, 2008. The soldiers are participating in U.S. Africa Command’s Operation Flintlock, a 14-nation multiforce exercise with a focus on helping African nations. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Nicholas Hernande
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The exercise, known as Flintlock 09, was developed as a joint multinational exercise to improve information sharing at the operational and tactical levels across the Saharan region while fostering increased collaboration and coordination. Effective military-to-military training and multinational regional cooperation were the keys to success, Africom officials said.

The exercise’s focus was on counter-terrorism efforts, but it encompassed much more, organizers said.

“Flintlock brought the expertise and experience from each nation together so that the entire team could benefit,” Gen. William “Kip” Ward, Africom commander, told participants in a video message. “By working alongside each other, you helped improve the security capacity and capability of all the participating nations.”

Africom leaders consider the ability to work together, with Africans leading the way, as essential to ensuring the common goal of a stable and secure Africa. This includes stemming the flow of illicit arms, goods and people, preventing outlaws from establishing sanctuaries in the Trans-Saharan region, multinational efforts to respond to natural disasters and more, they said.

Niger Army Maj. Toure Seydou Abdel Aziz said his participation in the exercise would foster better relations for his country and its surrounding neighbors to protect the region.

“My main role as a military officer is to keep Niger’s territory safe,” Aziz said. “ On a larger scale, we also must help our neighbors keep their territories safe from terrorism. Flintlock helps Niger by creating a link with our partners and helping us learn about each other. This way, by us knowing each other now, we will be able to work better together in the future."

More than 200 people participated in Flintlock, a part of Africom’s Operation Enduring Freedom-Trans Sahara, which provides military support to State Department programs that, together, aim to enhance regional security in Africa by also addressing economic and social development, as well as things like disaster preparedness and medical emergencies.

The exercise consisted of small-unit combined training and activities involving U.S. special operation forces and partner nation militaries throughout the region. Among other things, the exercise included the first-ever deployment of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command’s CV-22 Osprey to the African continent. It also included training in crisis response and medical and veterinary skills in the hopes of extending those skills to Africa’s rural people.

The exercise included a Multinational Coordination Center where military leaders collaborated and developed concepts and plans with delegations from six African nations and five European nations. A religious lay leader was there to bridge cultural and language gaps.

"I’m especially impressed with some of the frank discussions taking place amongst the African partner nation representatives gathered here,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Steve Wisotzki, commandant of the Multinational Coordination Center for the exercise. “We’ve really tried hard to foster an environment that emphasizes our core shared values and interests, while not allowing ourselves to be distracted too much by the changing political landscapes on all sides."

“The camaraderie we’ve shared during the exercise, both professionally and personally, has been refreshingly heartfelt," said Wisotzki, the commandant of the exercise. "There’s no doubt that the seeds of change have been sown, and that the new energy that Africom brings to the continent is being absorbed by all. It’s been a great exercise and incredibly rewarding for me to be a part of it. I look forward to continuing the effort."

“What we did here was to essentially design a framework for cooperation,” Army Lt. Col. Peter Tate said of the center. “The MCC concept in this environment is a new model. We are all learning, together, how to make it work."

With multiple nations from various walks of life and several faiths participating in the exercise, the planners of the Flintlock 09 exercise listened to feedback from the previous exercise two years ago and dedicated a room in the multinational coordination center for prayer and reflection.

U.S. Army Capt. Michael Corley helped lead the religious services. "They welcomed my insights into what I felt were the best ways to extend the freedom to practice religion to our partner nations. I think providing this opportunity… was one of best things the command could have done. Feedback from those who took advantage of the prayer room was overwhelmingly positive. It went that extra effort to show that the U.S…. practices what it preaches when it comes to encouraging freedom of religious expression.

“Serving as a religious minority group lay-leader during Flintlock 09 was truly one of the best efforts I have ever had the pleasure of participating in during my military career,” Corley added.

During the closing ceremonies for the center yesterday, Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson, Africom director of operations and logistics, commented about the cultural differences between the United States and some of the other militaries.

"As many of you have expressed, and as I have heard on numerous occasions throughout my travels to Africa and other countries around the world, is that we Americans are very end-result oriented and will take the fastest route possible to achieve an objective,” Jackson said. “We sometimes do not take the time to take into consideration the cultural sensitivities that could often hinder us from achieving that objective. I hope that during the course of this exercise, our team leaders spent as much time listening as they did leading."

Maj. Gen. Edward Leacock, deputy director of Africom’s Intelligence and Knowledge Development Division, told participants he hoped the exercise “sets a strong precedent for future U.S. Africa Command engagements where the U.S. military will actively seek the partnership of African stakeholders to meet common challenges.”

Leacock added that he hoped a multinational force “will help our partner nations stand together to boldly confront the humanitarian crises in the Sahel and African Sahara regions.”

(Maj. Eric Hilliard works in the U.S. Africa Command public affairs office).

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Related Sites:
U.S. Africa Command
Photo essay: Exercise Flintlock Builds Relationships

Click photo for screen-resolution imageServicemembers from Europe, Africa and the United States participate in training activities during Operation Flintlock, a biannual exercise designed to foster regional relationships to advance security and stability around Africa, on Naval Station Rota, Spain, Nov. 7, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Michael Hendrickson  
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