Flintlock 2022 Shows Coastal Nations Joining the Fight Against Sahel Extremism
At a training facility in Jacqueville, Côte d’Ivoire, Soldiers with Ghana’s Special Forces Unit leaned a metal ladder against an earthen wall as they practiced assaulting a village held by insurgents. One Soldier began climbing while his two partners kept watch for enemies.
The Ghanaian troops were among 400 Soldiers from West Africa and the Sahel participating in Operation Flintlock 2022 in February. Côte d’Ivoire hosted this year’s Flintlock at its new International Academy for Combating Terrorism outside of Abidjan. The 1,100-hectare campus includes a school for government officials, a training center for special forces and a research institute.
First held in 2005, Flintlock is U.S. Africa Command’s largest annual special operations exercise and is designed to improve the ability of nations to fight violent extremist organizations operating in the Sahel. The exercise included Soldiers from 11 African and allied countries. Along with the host nation, participating countries were Cameroon, Ghana and Niger. Last year’s Flintlock Exercise 2021 planned for Senegal was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flintlock aims to build regional security and cooperation in an area facing challenges from multiple extremist groups.
“Flintlock reminds us, if needed, the importance of shared intelligence against the perpetrators of terrorism, violent extremism and other dark threats,” said Gen. Lassina Doumbia, chief of staff of the Army of Côte d’Ivoire.
Soldiers who took part in two weeks of exercises worked together during drills that included breaching walled villages and clearing buildings as well as capturing and interrogating suspected extremists. The event also stressed the need to protect human rights during counter-insurgency operations.
Since 2015, the region has experienced increasing violence from extremist groups such as Boko Haram, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimin (JNIM), the Macina Liberation Front and the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara.
The Africa Center for Strategic Studies reported 2,005 violent events linked to extremist groups in the Sahel in 2021, a 70% increase over 2020. While extremists remain active in the Lake Chad basin of northern Cameroon, they have begun to spread from Mali and Burkina Faso south into the coastal nations of Côte d’Ivoire and Benin.
Brig. Gen. Felicia Twum-Barima, the Ghanaian defense attaché in Côte d’Ivoire, said the groups appear intent on reaching the coast. “I’m not surprised that they’re here—but the speed is alarming,” he told the Wall-Street Journal.
Since 2020, extremists have attacked Côte d’Ivoire 16 times and killed at least 22 members of the security forces. Attacks are growing in Benin. Ghana has experienced no major attacks, but extremists are reported to have cells there.
Doumbia said his country is prepared to face the rising threat.
“None of our countries is now immune,” Doumbia told Côte d’Ivoire’s linfodrome.ci. “We have to face it. And we are therefore now taking this new situation into account in our planning, in the organization of our system and, obviously, in all the ramp-up that will ensue.”
Ghana is scheduled to host Flintlock 2023.