Inside an enormous U.S. army train in Africa to counter terrorism and Russia and China’s rising affect

Tamale, Ghana — On a dusty airport tarmac within the northern Ghanaian metropolis of Tamale, army particular operatives from throughout Africa transfer stealthily. Pictures ring out as they converge on the airport and apprehend armed militants holding it hostage. 

It isn’t an actual assault, however simply one of many workout routines of “Flintlock,” the U.S. army’s premier counterterrorism coaching occasion in Africa, which is now in its twentieth 12 months.

Particular ops groups from the U.S. army’s Africa Command, together with NATO allies, are conducting drills alongside troopers from international locations together with Ghana, Ivory Coast, Chad, Mauritania, Nigeria, Libya and Morocco.

Within the train CBS Information witnessed, the elite forces had been rescuing hostages from a simulated assault on an airport. It is a very actual situation within the huge North African area generally known as the Sahel, which is taken into account the epicenter of the worldwide struggle in opposition to ISIS and al Qaeda franchises.

A map reveals the Sahel area stretching throughout the northern African continent.


The Sahel stretches from Mauritania within the west by means of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, all the way in which to Eritrea and Djibouti on Africa’s east coast, and it’s house to the quickest rising and most threatening terror teams on the earth.

Ghana is likely one of the few international locations within the area that has managed to dodge the speedy rise of violent extremism — blocking any potential incursions earlier than they attain its borders.

Gen. Frank Tei of the Ghana Armed Forces informed CBS Information that was very important, as a result of “when you enable terrorist actions in a selected nation to fester and blossom, then that place can develop into a base from which a whole lot of different terrorist actions can unfold throughout the globe.”

That is precisely what the U.S. fears and is making an attempt to assist stop.

The deputy AFRICOM commander, Lt. Gen. John Brennan, informed CBS Information that the Flintlock train isn’t solely about coaching African forces to defend themselves and fight terrorism, nevertheless.

“We provide issues which are significant in the long run — sharing democratic values, instilling rule of regulation,” he mentioned.

However that hasn’t labored out so nicely over the previous decade. There have been 11 coups within the Sahel alone over that interval, and a minimum of 14 leaders of these armed authorities overthrows had been educated at Flintlock.

Brennan informed CBS Information the army tracks these leaders, and whereas there are strict guidelines of engagement with any nation through which the federal government has been toppled by a army junta, “the hope is that you just preserve contact with the army companions and then you definately pull them away from military-led governments, which by no means final.”

So how can the U.S. guarantee the abilities taught at occasions like Flintlock are usually not later weaponized and used to subvert democracy?  

Brennan is fast to level out that executing a coup is a political maneuver, not a army one. 

“We educate them how you can defend their forces in fight after which conduct profitable counterterrorism operations. That has nothing to do with overthrowing a authorities. It is simply a number of the folks we have educated are army they usually’re concerned in a number of the coups,” he mentioned. “However historical past has proven … democracy finally ends up prevailing in a whole lot of international locations.”

Flintlock has expanded to incorporate maritime coaching — together with rappelling onto a transferring warship hijacked by armed militants. American forces, together with Italian and Dutch troopers, put African troops by means of their paces on a frigate off the Ghanaian coast. 

Troopers rappel onto the deck of a transferring warship throughout the annual U.S.-led Flintlock coaching workout routines for African forces, hosted this 12 months by Ghana, in late Might 2024.

CBS Information

This side of the workout routines is more and more necessary, provided that the Sahel area runs all the way in which to the Pink Sea, the place the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been launching assaults focusing on worldwide delivery and U.S. naval vessels.

The annual Flintlock coaching operation — hosted this 12 months by Ghana — couldn’t have come at a extra essential time for the U.S. army, as American affect is arguably in deep decline throughout the huge African continent.

The U.S. is up in opposition to stiff competitors. China gives Africa’s nationwide leaders commerce agreements and Russia gives army support, and all with only a few strings hooked up. Washington, in the meantime, has been booted off one key entrance line within the struggle in opposition to terrorism, after the greater than 1,000 troops AFRICOM had stationed in Niger had been ordered to go away the nation by September following a coup there final 12 months.

Folks, some carrying Russian flags, exhibit in Niger’s capital Niamey to point out their help for the army rulers who seized energy in a coup, on Aug. 3, 2023.

Djibo Issifou/image alliance by way of Getty Photographs

The U.S. has two army bases in Niger, together with a drone command middle within the metropolis of Agadez that price greater than $110 million to arrange.

Russia shortly stepped in to take advantage of the facility vacuum created by the coup. Mercenaries from the previous Wagner Group, now known as Africa Corps and run by the Russian authorities, arrived in Niger in April.

In a situation that was not way back unimaginable, the Russian and American forces now occupy opp­osite sides of the identical sprawling air base.

That has despatched alarm bells ringing in Washington, and U.S. Ambassador to Ghana Virginia Palmer confused to CBS Information that African nations ought to perceive that Russia’s supply of safety forces doesn’t come fully with out strings hooked up.

“It is necessary that our African companions perceive that what the Russians are providing is, perhaps regime safety — it is definitely not nationwide safety,” Palmer mentioned.

She mentioned African international locations do pay for the providers provided by Moscow, and at a value that “is very excessive.”­­

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Niger is wealthy in uranium, which can be utilized to make nuclear weapons. What Russia gives is army muscle in trade for mineral wealth, however not like the U.S., the deal comes with no probably difficult human rights questions being requested.

“However time will inform that that call might be not a great one,” Brennan mentioned. “So, you do not feed your youngsters ice cream for dinner each evening as a result of they need it, proper? You feed them greens, you feed them spinach, issues which are good for them … on the spot gratification might be not a recipe for achievement.”

U.S. regulation restricts the supply of army support to armed forces believed to be responsible of human rights abuses, however many leaders on the continent accuse Washington of getting double requirements — saying the U.S. withholds support from some African nations whereas giving Israel billions of {dollars} regardless of international condemnation of its actions within the warfare in Gaza.

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It is a cost that Brennan disputes.

“I do not suppose there is a double customary,” he informed CBS Information. “I can let you know our values and the folks we do accomplice with — even after coups — we’re nonetheless capable of affect them.”

African international locations argue that it is not simply coaching they want, however sources and trendy army gear in the event that they hope to counter rising extremism.

Brennan confused that the U.S. carries with it the burden of the complete NATO alliance, not like its rivals, however he conceded that Washington should “be capable of useful resource our companions appropriately, and actually broaden the connection with them … to assist make Africa affluent, free and a accomplice of alternative.”

With Flintlock, the U.S. guarantees long-term funding within the African continent. However that long-view safety technique is competing for African partnerships amid a fast-growing terror risk, on a battlefield crowded with malign actors.

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