Last Monday started Flintlock, annual, African-led, Special Operations Forces, planned by Special Operations Command-Africa (AFRICOM) to develop the capacity and collaboration among African security forces to protect civilian populations. This year Flintlock has scheduled to take place in Senegal with outstations in Mauritania.

A US Army soldier observes a Chadian soldier during Exercise Flintlock 2015 Credit: Amber Martin
The maneuvers involving more than 1,700 soldiers from thirty different countries of Africa, Europe and North America, which include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, United Kingdom and United States.

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The operations are aimed at improving multinational cooperation against jihadist groups in northwestern Africa, which are mainly related to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and both since long time try to destabilize those areas.

The joint military exercise began on Monday from Thies airport, Senegal, to continue until next February 29. The AFRICOM Command explained that Flintlock aims to improve the exchange of information for operational and tactical levels in the African region and to promote closer cooperation and coordination on a multinational level.

Specifically, the priority objective of Flintlock 2016 will be to concentrate the armed forces on the growing jihadist threat in Africa Northwest, where in recent months there have been repeated attacks by extremist groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamists Nigerian group Boko Haram, which less than a year ago have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State.

The strategic importance of northwestern Africa

This vast region of Africa is traditionally one of the world’s epicenters of Islamic radicalism. As a result, the strategic importance of ensuring security in the area is primary and fits into a multinational perspective, able to focus its law enforcement in preventing the establishment of further links between the different militias attributable to Islamist ideology, which have led an arc of instability throughout the macro-region.

Before start training, the commander of Special Operations AFRICOM, Brigadier General Donald C. Bolduc, said the regional forces must be organized and supported with enhanced intelligence sharing to counter the growing terrorist threat.

Bolduc then cited the MNJTF, the ‘combined’ multinational formation, comprising units, mostly military, from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, that has recorded several successes in the fight against Boko HaramBoko Haram Islamic extremists, showing how regional cooperation is able to counter the jihadist challenge.

Africa is increasingly strategic for the United States

The first edition of Flintlock began in June 2005, focusing on three priorities: security, counter-terrorism and the stabilization of the poorest countries through the training of local security forces and humanitarian aid.

Over time, the level of cooperation between AFRICOM and African partners has been growing, and in addition to strengthening the relations between the United States and the African Union, has also improved ones among the African nations themselves.

It seems clear that the action of AFRICOM in Africa is an integral part of Washington's policy, that right after the September 11 attacks has focused its attention to the expansion of the terrorist threat in the macro-region in order to safeguard its strategic interests.

Africa is also increasingly becoming a priority for the United States, which aim to strengthen the relationship with African countries and gaining ground in comparison with China, which in addition to having surpassed the US as the first trade partner, has encouraged his efforts in peacekeeping missions of the United Nations, especially in the African continent.

Beijing has also decided to allocate one hundred million dollars in military assistance to the African Union and evaluated to open in Africa itself, its first military base abroad. The choice fell on Djibouti, a small but strategic country for its dominant position on the Horn of Africa, where the United States also have their own unique base in African territory, where are stationed 4 thousand troops.

@afrofocus

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