Exercise Flintlock 2019 officially kicked off during an opening ceremony on 18 February in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Approximately 2,000 service members from more than 30 African and western partner nations are participating in Flintlock 2019 at multiple locations in Burkina Faso with a key outstation in Mauritania.
Flintlock is an annual African-led, integrated multi-agency, military and law enforcement exercise that builds the capacity of participating African and western nations to support regional cooperation, security and interoperability, US Africa Command said.
“Terrorism is a global threat to all of us, and we can only defeat it if we fight against it together,” said Amb. Andrew Young, U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso. “Flintlock is a perfect opportunity to learn how to fight side-by-side with each other.”
Flintlock 2019 builds on the successes of 2018 by emphasizing operational-level advising and assisting. As part of that effort, a Joint Multinational Headquarters was established at Camp Zagre, Burkina Faso. The JMHQ is designed to exert realistic command and control over tactical units at four different locations in Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
This will allow participants to develop coherent strategies and campaigns in order to ensure tactical units are building on one another’s efforts rather than conducting desynchronized operations, said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Hicks, commander, Special Operations Command Africa.
“Unity of effort is a foundational principle for successful military engagements, and nowhere is that more evident than here, in Africa, where we’re fighting a ruthless enemy that respects no borders and recognizes no sovereign governments,” Hicks said. “We all need to work in concert to defeat this foe, and I’m confident Flintlock will enable us to do just that.”
Flintlock 2019 brings together the G5 Sahel, Multinational Joint Task Force and troop contributing nations to conduct complimentary scenario-based tactical operations.
“The security situation in the Sahel and Saharan space, marked by an increased tempo of armed terrorist group activities in central Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, is a matter of concern for our states and a reminder of the fragility of our respective spaces caused by the threat of terrorism,” said Burkinabe Minister of Defense and Veterans Affairs Chèrif Sy.
International military cooperation through military exercises, like Flintlock, is one of the important links in building an effective counter-terrorism strategy for a strong and stable Trans-Saharan region, he said. Bringing together the nations of these multinational organizations, such as the G5 Sahel are critical, to improving security in the region, Africa Command said.
“The G5 Sahel is one of the key multilateral institutions that’s allowing us to fight this growth of terrorism that we are seeing,” said Rear Adm. Heidi Berg, U.S. Africa Command director of intelligence. “The violent extremist organizations that range across the borders that make it even more important to have coordination on a multilateral level between our key partners.”
Flintlock as an exercise, began 51 years ago as an opportunity for America to train European allies during the Cold War. It shifted to Africa in the late 1980s.
“In 2005, Flintlock became what we know it as today: a Sahel-focused, special operations engagement designed to enable our African partners in the fight against our common enemies,” Hicks said.
For the first time in Flintlock’s history, African nations will be training other African forces during the exercise.
“The importance of this development cannot be overstated,” he said. “We are seeing our African partners take ownership of their regional problems and truly evolve into exporters of security.”
Flintlock is more than just a military exercise. It incorporates law enforcement training with Burkinabe police forces and the transition of militants to the civilian justice system for prosecution. Civil affairs teams are working with non-governmental organizations and community leaders to provide medical training and care to local populations. The U.S. embassy is hosting an event designed to communicate the importance of women and civil societies in de-radicalization programs.
“Our commitment will last far beyond Flintlock as well,” Hicks said. “The lessons we learn during Flintlock will bring us tangibly closer to securing a peaceful future for your nations and your children.”