Saturday Africa Links: Flintlock 10, Hizbul Islam Split, Nile Controversies

Christian Science Monitor discusses AFRICOM’s Flintlock 10 training exercise in the Sahel:

At one time, a military exercise like Operation Flintlock – which is now in its fifth year – would have set African opinion-page columns aflame and set a fair number of African politicians pounding on tables with their shoes. Some African nations worried that the newly announced but vaguely defined Africa Command (AFRICOM) of the US Army would herald a new colonial presence in Africa, complete with permanent military bases and political interference.

But today, AFRICOM’s military exercises often pass with little notice, and increasingly with the support of African leaders. In part, this is because African leaders now see a common threat: armed violent groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which have carried out a series of murders and kidnappings from Mauritania to Algeria to Niger and threaten to topple any government that dares confront them.

AQIM might have brought a change in attitudes. Or maybe the passage of time has softened criticism. More on Flintlock 10 here and here.

Speaking of AQIM, they’ve abducted another Frenchman in northern Niger.

One of Somalia’s two main Islamist rebel groups, Hizbul Islam, is facing a schism:

An influential splinter group has officially cut it ties with the Somalia’s militant, Hizbul Islam, vowing to wage war against rival Islamist group.

Abdiaziz Hassan Abdi, a spokesman for the Ras Kamboni faction, says senior faction members including Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Islam ‘Madobe have decided to formally walk out of Hizbul Islam.

I’ll try and write a full post on this next week. I would love to hear any insights from readers.

The UN to hold a conference on Somalia. Meanwhile, IRIN updates us on the economic effects of the pirates’ departure from Harardheere. (Can we standardize the spelling of this town? Is it Haradhere, Harardhere, Harardheere, or Xharadhere, or something else?)

Vincent Ogbulafor, chairman of Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party, will resign next month.

The AP profiles Juba, South Sudan.

US Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration’s testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Food shortages in Burkina Faso affect livestock as well as people, producing a cycle of loss.

Controversy continues around a water-sharing agreement in Nile Basin countries. More here, and below is a video from Al Jazeera English:

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Flintlock 10 Update

The US-run Flintlock 10 training exercise, which aims among other goals to increase counterterrorism capacity in the Sahel, began some ten days ago. A few articles, several of them from US AFRICOM, update us on how the exercise is going:

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso (AFRICOM):

The tactical portion of Flintlock 10 will consist of small-unit combined training and activities involving U.S. and partner nation militaries throughout the region. The exercise will also include Medical and Veterinary Civic Action Programs that will be conducted to provide the populations in rural areas health information and medical care.

[…]

An important objective of this exercise is to promote the interoperability of the militaries of partner nations. Future operations in the region will involve the combined multinational militaries of several different nations. The interoperability of African nations will be critical to successful African peacekeeping operations and provide regional stability in the greater security efforts on the continent.

[…]

True interoperability is more than just compatible systems and procedures; it’s also developing a cadre of professionals who know how to work with each other.

Mali (AFP):

A U.S. Special Forces instructor leans toward a steering wheel, showing some 50 Malian soldiers gathered around an army pickup how a passenger should take control of a car if the driver is killed in an ambush.

The elite Malian troops look on, perplexed. “But what can we do if we don’t know how to drive?” asks Sgt. Amadou, echoing many of his colleagues’ concern.

There are a few laughs, but the Malians are not joking; most of their unit does not know how. The lack of ability to perform such a basic task illustrates part of the huge knowledge gap the U.S. military is seeking to bridge in Africa as it trains local armies to better face the region’s mounting threats.

Mali (AFRICOM):

U.S. Army jumpmasters assigned to Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara conducted a Basic Airborne Refresher course May 7, 2010 for African paratroopers as part of the Flintlock 10 special operations exercise in an effort to improve capacity building of African forces for future airborne missions.

Airborne soldiers from Mali, Senegal and Burkina Faso took part in the training aimed at adherence to standards and attention to detail for safe airborne operations.

The training focused on airborne tasks such as pre-jump (proper exit, check body position and count), demonstration of modified parachute landing falls (front right, front left, rear right and rear left), and mock door training (static line control).

Emphasizing the importance of safety, through the aid of interpreters, the jumpmasters trained the parachutists according to standards of the U.S. Airborne School.

According to U.S. Army Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Pair, JSOTF-TS jumpmaster, the paratroopers from the African armies brought a level of experience and expertise to the refresher training.

The results, taking the AFP and AFRICOM reports together, sound mixed. I suppose that is why the US military approaches this as a long-term project, and will likely conduct more Flintlock exercises in the future.

Flintlock has multiple goals – increasing coordination, enhancing peacekeeping capacity, strengthening counterterrorism efforts – but counterterrorism appears to be the centerpiece of the operation. I was intrigued, then, to see AFP cite a figure of 400 active militants in AQIM. I am not a military strategist, but 400 militants seems like enough men to pull off a number of kidnapping operations and hit-and-run attacks on army outposts in the desert. It does not seem like enough men to engage a Sahelian army (let alone the US army) in a pitched battle. I am wondering then whether military training will really boost the capacity of Sahelian armies to deal with AQIM. Aren’t the real needs in intelligence – finding and arresting militants, breaking up cells, negotiating hostage releases, etc?