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Denise Mathieu, the U.S. ambassador to Niger, listens to a briefing about Tuesday afternoon’s live-fire exercise by Nigerien troops.

Denise Mathieu, the U.S. ambassador to Niger, listens to a briefing about Tuesday afternoon’s live-fire exercise by Nigerien troops. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

Denise Mathieu, the U.S. ambassador to Niger, listens to a briefing about Tuesday afternoon’s live-fire exercise by Nigerien troops.

Denise Mathieu, the U.S. ambassador to Niger, listens to a briefing about Tuesday afternoon’s live-fire exercise by Nigerien troops. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

U.S. Army Green Berets shout instructions to Nigerien soldiers as they fire at a target during the exercise.

U.S. Army Green Berets shout instructions to Nigerien soldiers as they fire at a target during the exercise. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

TAHOUA, Niger — There are all kinds of soldiers. Some are allies, such as the Nigeriens being trained in Niger this month by U.S. troops.

Some soldiers are enemies.

“The terrorists have training camps, and they’re also recruiting,” said Christopher, a Green Beret captain and leader of Team Niger, the U.S. contingent training their African counterparts. [Stars and Stripes is not using Christopher’s last name for security reasons.]

“They’re not just enemies of the western world. They’re the enemies of the [Nigerien soldiers], too.”

On Monday night and Tuesday, during an in-the-field exercise that capped two weeks of training by U.S. forces, the Nigeriens killed a lot of make-believe enemies. They went on a night mission and ambushed a truckload of bad guys. After some VIPs arrived for a demonstration, they slaughtered a bunch more using live fire brought by the Americans.

Tactics the Nigeriens had been learning — patrols, reconnaissance and raids — came together to the satisfaction of the Team Niger leader.

“I wouldn’t have done [the exercise] the first day we met them,” said Christopher, of 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group from Stuttgart, Germany. “But they came a long way in 10 training days. Going into [Tuesday’s] live fire, I was confident they were ready, or else I wouldn’t have let it happen.”

The event was part of Flintlock 05, the U.S. European Command-coordinated training mission involving nine northern African countries, including five whose soldiers were being trained this month by Americans.

The military training, along with concurrent medical and civil affairs assistance, is part of what EUCOM calls Phase Zero operations designed to make countries less susceptible to war or upheaval.

On Tuesday, before a VIP audience and French TV crew, Nigeriens who were piled into white pickup trucks roared onto the desert practice range, decimated an enemy observation post, then moved into assault position in front of the earplug-wearing VIPs who were watching from the bed of a cargo truck.

Then the soldiers assaulted the enemy camp 300 meters away from the left, right and center, moving into position just as they practiced, and firing thousands of 7.62mm rounds from their AK-47 rifles into the targets.

Denise Mathieu, the U.S. ambassador to Niger, who watched the exercise with Nigerien military leaders and the governor of Tahoua province, said the training seemed like a good investment.

“The Niger military demonstrated their professionalism and that they can learn quickly,” Mathieu said. “They have the skills and are receptive to the training.”

Field-training exercises, or FTXs, are lifelike patrols and attacks performed in the field, often over a period of many days. The FTX in Tahoua was short but to the point.

After rehearsing all day Monday in the desert outside of town, the Nigeriens and their American trainers bedded down on the dirt on Monday night. At about 11 p.m., they were rousted and told to get ready, that they’d be ambushing a truckload of terrorists that would be passing through the area.

The soldiers hiked under a nearly-full moon to the ambush site and laid in wait. When the truck idled down the road with lights dimmed, the soldiers pounced on the terrorists. Three platoons each ran an ambush.

Maj. Moussa Salaou Barmou, a Nigerien company commander, said his soldiers want to protect their country and, if necessary, kill any violent extremists who seek refuge in Niger.

“We have men who are committed to what they are doing,” Moussa said. “As a whole, our nation is committed to the war on terrorism.

“But we cannot afford [military goods]. We rely on our partners for training and equipment like this.”


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