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.
I think it is now clearer that all the mess we experienced in the Sahara-Sahel for the last 2-3 years was to come to this: securing the whole area from Nigeria passing through Niger, Mali, Mauritania to Algeria. To protect the TSGP, energy sources in the whole area and to stop the Chinese. Indeed the article from FT is an excellent one and gives you a glimpse of the potential of energy resources in the area from Nigeria to Algeria the justification for the US and EU allies to spend so much money on useless military exercises, while not grabbing a single djihadist between Niger, Mali and Mauritania. Not a single one. Which makes me to come to the conclusion that AQIM and the air cocaines were all fabricated or made to come to the conclusion that Sahara-sahel is dangerous and to make Flintock, its EU allies and the Algerians the saviors of the situation. As I said before here, the kidnappings were all fabricated and it is awful to kill some people in the middle just to make the story believable. I may be wrong, but with Flintock 10 and the small Otan of Tamanrasset, les jeux sont faits: Western and part of Northern Africa are now being militarized and the chinese will have hard time to secure some energy contracts. They will be given some bones here and there not to make them too angry to mess up Asia. African leaders in these countries and the African Union played into the game. The most important for me is to stop killing innocent people in the middle of this game.
It’s true that the maneuvers improve US/European geopolitical standing in the region vis-a-vis China and others. The Algerians like this as a way to improve their prestige and influence in the region in general and in relation to Morocco. The US and Europeans see more powers (Brazil, China, etc.) expanding into Africa and especially the resource rich parts of the continent and need a way to remain competitive in Africa when there are multiple competitors. Linking with the militaries (which is usually one of the most important institutions in these countries) gives them a longer-term ability to have a stake there.
Fully agree with you Kal
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