The annual United States-led counterterrorism training programme for African forces has kicked off in Ivory Coast as West Africa faces the growing threat of armed groups’ attacks amid French forces’ withdrawal.
Also known as Flintlock, the programme which comprises more than 400 service members from 10 African partners and allied nations, began on Sunday. It is the US Africa Command’s largest annual operations exercise.
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The goal is “to strengthen the ability of key partner nations in the region to counter violent extremist organizations, collaborate across borders and provide security for the people of Africa”, AFRICOM’s website says.
The operation has been held every year since its inception in 2005. This year, participating nations include Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Niger, joined by Western countries such as Canada, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. It ends on February 28.
Noticeably absent are security forces from Mali and Burkina Faso, two countries where the military has seized power in the past 18 months.
The military training comes as the Sahel region is struggling to contain attacks from armed groups that have been roaming mostly Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso since 2015.
Since then, the region has experienced regular bouts of violence. Groups affiliated with the Macina Liberation Front (FLM) and the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara (ISGS) have been responsible for the majority of the attacks, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Figures from its 2021 report (PDF) show that the 2,005 violent events observed for the year represent a 70 percent increase over the previous year.
But as violence spreads beyond the Sahel region, coastal countries such as Benin and Ivory Coast, relatively unscathed by the security crisis affecting their northern neighbours, are experiencing a surge in attacks.
To further heighten tensions, France, which established a military presence in Mali in 2013, has decided to withdraw its forces and transfer them to Niger. The decision came amid increasing popular discontent over France’s presence in the region.