US and partner forces kick off annual exercise to better counter violent extremism in Africa

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A Senegalese marine commando provides security as a medical evacuation helicopter takes off during training on the final day of exercise Flintlock 2019 near Po, Burkina Faso, Feb. 26, 2019.

A Senegalese marine commando provides security as a medical evacuation helicopter takes off during training on the final day of exercise Flintlock 2019 near Po, Burkina Faso, Feb. 26, 2019.

U.S. special operations forces linked up with troops from 30 other countries in Africa to start an annual military exercise on Monday to sharpen their intelligence-sharing skills in the face of growing extremism in the Sahel region.

  • Flintlock, an exercise that has taken place since 2005, "brings people together in order to talk and communicate," Air Force Brig. Gen. Dagvin Anderson said last week, according to Military Times.
  • Over 1,600 troops from more than 30 countries — including Germany, France, Niger, Morocco, and more — plan to participate.
  • They hope to improve intelligence sharing abilities, Military Times reports, and "beef up partner nations' capacity to counter violent extremist organizations" in the Sahel.
  • The partner forces will focus on "small unit tactics," battle drills, and even conduct a mock investigation to learn how to develop intelligence, per Military Times.
  • Violence from extremist groups has grown in West Africa; in the last year alone, hundreds of thousands of people became displaced in Burkina Faso because of extremism.
  • "If existing African and international efforts are unable to contain the spread of terrorist groups in the Sahel it certainly presents a looming security challenge beyond the continent," Air Force Col. Chris Karns, spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, told Military Times.
  • In January, Defense Secretary Mark Esper didn't rule out the possibility of drawing down troops in Africa, though he said no final decisions had been made.