On May 2, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) began a training exercise in the Sahara called Flintlock 10 (French) that will last until May 23. The exercise forms part of the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) and is the latest in a series of Flintlock missions that began in 2005 with the US military’s “biggest exercise in Africa since World War Two.” This year’s training involves 600 American special forces personnel, around 400 African soldiers, and some 150 Europeans. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso houses the mission’s command center, but Burkinabe and American officials carefully stated that this does not mean AFRICOM will be moving its headquarters to Burkina Faso.
Still, the contours of the mission will have a political impact on the region, particularly in that they do not square perfectly with the outlines of other regional counterterrorism partnerships.
In addition to Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad are the main participants in Flintlock 10. The BBC calls attention to the “sidelining” of Algeria under this arrangement:
Just last month, Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger launched a joint military command headquarters in the south of Algeria to co-ordinate their efforts.
Critics point out that these initiatives have led to little action as yet and that one of Flintlock’s major limitations is that it only involves Algeria, the regional military heavyweight, in a limited way, our correspondent adds.
It seems to me the American military should proceed carefully here in political terms. If Flintlock facilitates cooperation between Sahelian militaries, that could boost their capacity to deal with AQIM. But it is a problem that the participants in cooperative projects keep changing. The Algiers summit on AQIM in March included Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, and Algeria. But then only Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger participated in the recent establishment of a regional command. And while countries like Burkina Faso, Chad, and Senegal are sometimes in, sometimes out, Morocco seems to be always out, despite its ties to the US. Finally, alongside the regional dynamics are bilateral relationships – tension between Mali and Mauritania over ransom payments to AQIM, extradition agreements between Mauritania and Niger, etc. With the situation so much in flux, American decisions about whom to include and exclude could inadvertently offend one or more governments in the region, thereby undermining some of the military gains the mission makes.
AFRICOM press release here, and below is an official video of last year’s Flintlock.