The United States’ Army Africa Command (AFRICOM) has begun its two-week counterterrorism training program involving more than 1,500 service members from 34 participating African countries. Held in Senegal and Mauritania, the training regimen (referred to as Flintlock exercises) comes at a time when terrorist violence continues to spread in the border regions of the Sahel, localized primarily in the territory between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Senegal and Mauritania have thus far managed to avoid the violence, though Senegalese military officials made clear during US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s visit last week that they want and need continued American involvement in Sahel security affairs.
Multipartner alliances like the G5 Sahel—made up of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso—have been struggling to hold back the growing threat of terrorist entities like Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahel. Part of this comes from insufficient funding, the other from a weak or nonexistent intelligence-sharing network, crucial for counterterrorism operations in the Sahel given the transnational operations of these terrorist groups. France, which has more than 5,000 troops stationed throughout Mali and the Sahel as part of Operation Barkhane, has also been facing an uphill battle against these groups and has called upon other European partners to pitch in with peacekeeping operations.
Why It Matters?
The Flintlock exercises are being held against a backdrop of possible American troop withdrawal as the Pentagon reassesses global troop deployments. A potential redeployment could see a major drawdown of American service members across Africa as they are relocated for containment strategies against Russia and China, as opposed to existing counterterrorism efforts. Should the United States pull back from the Sahel, it risks placing a greater burden on European and African partners to counter the terrorist threat. Persistent issues of abuse by African security forces has contributed to growing recruitment for Islamist terrorist groups, making the professional training offered by American advisors all the more necessary.