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.