Flintlock 10

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.

Saturday Links: AFRICOM, Africa Women and War, Somaliland Election Agreement

The Guardian discusses women’s roles in Africa’s wars.

On a more upbeat note, VOA profiles a nonprofit that works with female entrepreneurs in Mauritania.

International Crisis Group expresses concern about Nigeria’s 2011 elections.

General Kip Ward discusses AFRICOM.

IPS reports on the drive toward universal primary education in Senegal.

An end to the electoral crisis in Somaliland?

A six-point agreement was signed on Thursday by Somaliland President Dahir Riyale, on behalf of the ruling UDUB party, and Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo and Mr. Faisal Ali Warabe, on behalf of Kulmiye and UCID opposition parties, respectively[…]

The six-point agreement includes a clause prohibiting the Riyale administration from “a term extension without consulting” opposition parties. Another clause calls for international experts to be sent to Hargeisa to complete the computerized voter-registration system.

The presidential election, scheduled for September 29 but cancelled, will be held exactly one month after the international experts say they can complete the voter-registration system, according to the new agreement.

A clause that strengthens the opposition’s political cards calls for the Somaliland election commission to be replaced. It was the election commission, pressured by the Riyale administration, that cancelled September’s presidential election, thereafter deepening the political crisis and sparking deadly riots in Hargeisa.

It is the first time foreign diplomats have mediated among Somaliland’s political rivals, with [UK Deputy Ambassador to Ethiopia John] Marshal signing as a witness on behalf of the international community.

President Riyale, who was elected in 2003, has managed to stay in power by two term-extensions approved by the House of Guurti. His closest challenger, Mr. Silanyo, lost the 2003 presidential election to Riyale with less than 90 votes.

What are you reading?