Confidential

Flintlock: Improving Sahel Security With Special Forces Training

Flintlock

Key Judgements 

KJ-1. Flintlock likely resulted in a stronger partnership and enhanced proficiency in tactical skills between the participating African nations and their Western counterparts. The very fact that the participating nations are willing to be part of the exercise demonstrates some sort of desire to improve the security forces that conduct counter-insurgency operations in their respective areas of operation.

KJ-2. In terms of Flintlock’s effectiveness on regional security, it is likely that there was limited success in nations utilizing learned skills in order to combat terrorism independently.

KJ-3. It is highly likely the complexity of African battlespaces married with the complexity of counter-insurgency operations presents a challenge for both the foreign trainers and domestic trainees.

KJ-4. It is likely that the scale of the exercise and lack of a uniformed training standard across all partnering nations makes it hard to accurately gauge Flintlocks effectiveness.  

Flintlock Background

According to the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), “Flintlock is a Special Operations Command Africa led an all-domain exercise in Senegal focused on the G5 Sahel Force and its interoperability with U.S. and NATO special operations forces to counter malign influence, aggression, and activity.”

Since 2005, Flintlock has been hosted annually in Mauritania and Senegal. Participating African partner nations are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo.

Western partners include Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States – “Approximately 1,600 service members from more than 30 African and partner nations”, as stated by AFRICOM.

The primary focus of the exercise is regional terrorism, with the Western partners pairing with African forces to train them in areas such as communications, small-unit tactics, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), mounted operations, patrolling techniques, and other tactics that would be beneficial in the regional fight against terrorism.

Regional Impact

It is likely that Flintlock resulted in a stronger partnership and enhanced proficiency in tactical skills between the participating African nations and their Western counterparts. The very fact that the participating nations are willing to be part of the exercise demonstrates some sort of desire to improve the security forces that conduct counter-insurgency operations in their respective areas of operation.

That along with the calibre of special operations trainers likely results in success at a base level. In a US Department of Defense article, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, R. Clarke Cooper, is quoted saying “The fact that 30 nations can work in partnership to address problems greater than any one nation can handle gives hope to the region and world for stability, security and lasting peace.”

In terms of Flintlock’s effectiveness on regional security, it is likely that there has been limited success in nations utilizing learned skills in order to combat terrorism independently. Recent trends in terrorist activity, particularly in West Africa and the Sahel, do not show successes in national defence. According to a recent briefing to the United Nations Security Council, Special Representative Mohamed Ibn Chambas stated “Since my last briefing at this forum in July (2020), the West Africa and Sahel region has experienced a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets. The humanitarian consequences are alarming.”

It is highly likely the complexity of African battlespaces married with the complexity of counter-insurgency operations presents a challenge for both the foreign trainers and domestic trainees.

According to a 2019 Audit of the Training of the Army’s Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF) in the U.S. Africa Command, “senior U.S. officials from country teams, individual RAF personnel, a USAFRICOM Branch Chief, and an Army Asymmetric Warfare Group observation reported the need for more robust preparation in several areas, including cultural awareness training, instructor training to enable the teaching and advising of skills and tactics to partner nations, and training on partner nation’ environments or militaries”.

This report was not unique to Flintlock but gives insight into some of the disparities RAF forces face when partnering with African nations. In regard to the African participants, a proper counter-insurgency operation requires a longer period of consistent training and support than what Flintlock offers. Being introduced to new skills at the exercise has limitations if those skills are not maintained when operating in respective home nations.  Furthermore, it is likely that the scale of the exercise and lack of a uniformed training standard across all partnering nations makes it hard to accurately gauge Flintlocks effectiveness.

Image: U.S AFRICOM (link)

Author

Michael Ellmer

Michael served as an infantryman in the United States Marine Corps with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving the Corps, he completed his undergraduate studies at Seattle Pacific University, majoring in communications. He is currently a graduate candidate at Brunel University, where he is pursing a master’s degree in Strategic Intelligence Analysis.

Leave a Reply

No Comments Yet!