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US Special Operations soldiers, African partners wrap up Flintlock exercise

Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks, leader of Special Operations Command Africa, left, reviews local troops in formation during a visit Thursday to Flintlock 2018 headquarters in Agadez, Niger. Flintlock, which ended Friday, is the largest U.S. special operations exercise in Africa and comes at a time when commanders are worried that extremist groups in the region are gaining momentum.

JOHN VANDIVER/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 20, 2018

NIAMEY, Niger — U.S. special operations troops ended their largest training mission in West Africa on Friday, as part of a bid to better train local soldiers for the fight against terror groups.

“Flintlock represents a new level of cooperation … in a troubled region,” U.S. Special Operations Command chief Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks said at a ceremony in Niger’s capital city of Niamey. “We do this as brothers in arms.”

Hicks called this years’ Flintlock “the most successful” since the exercises began in 2005.

Hicks said he sees a growing threat from extremist groups in the region, who are applying pressure in countries such as Niger and Burkina Faso.

In March, al-Qaida claimed responsibility for an attack on an army headquarters and French Embassy in Burkina Faso. The attack represents a shift away from softer, civilian targets and serves as an indication that the militants are gaining in capabilities, U.S. military officials said.

Flintlock 2018 was designed to help local militaries take on the growing threat, Hicks said. The training pivoted from tactic-centered drills of years past to coordination between small units and higher headquarters.

In West Africa, a group of five regional militaries known as the G-5 Sahel Force formed last year in the hopes of bringing more unity of effort to the battle against Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliates. The G-5 group aims to have about 5,000 soldiers.

For the U.S., Flintlock 2018 served as an opportunity to work alongside militaries that will be part of that effort.

In all, some 1,900 troops took part in the exercise that included soldiers from the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 3rd Special Forces Group.

The Flintlock drills come six months after an ambush in Niger that resulted in the deaths of four U.S. soldiers. The attack brought increased attention to the risks U.S. troops face in remote parts of Africa.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

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Niger Defense Minister Kalla Mountari speaks at the end of Flintlock 2018. Niger hosted this year?s annual special operations war game. Next year, the exercise will be held in Burkina Faso.
JOHN VANDIVER/STARS AND STRIPES

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