Flintlock 2019: Helping US troops strengthen partnerships across West Africa


Last month, while traveling through West Africa to meet with American troops and diplomats in Mali, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, and Niger, I had the opportunity to attend Flintlock 2019.

Flintlock is an annual Special Operations exercise designed to strengthen key regional partnerships, help counter violent extremism, and improve security throughout West Africa. It is a critical event in a region plagued by groups like Boko Haram, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and several Islamic State affiliates. Spirit of America is proud to have supported the exercise for the last five years.

A US Army soldier mentors an African partner on military tactics

This year’s event included more than 2,000 soldiers representing over 30 African and Western partner nations.

Beyond providing a venue to conduct advanced joint training, this exercise represents a powerful opportunity to strengthen the bonds between US, African, and NATO partners, relationships that will continue to net dividends as these elite troops work together not only in West Africa but around the world.

While at Flintlock, I was able to catch up with Lt. Col. Assimi Goita, a key partner and friend that I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside since 2016. Together, we fought violent extremism in Mali.

Spirit of America implemented seven projects in the context of Flintlock 2019, working alongside Army Special Operations and US Embassy teams in Burkina Faso and Mauritania to both address critical local needs and improve the ability of local partners to secure their countries from violent extremism.

We provided locally-produced first aid kits in a pilot program to develop a standardized, sustainable solution to medical needs throughout the Sahel, providing access to lifesaving resources in the event of a terrorist attack. We also provided educational supplies, radios, and other humanitarian assistance for African partners to conduct outreach and build trust with village leaders and their communities in areas susceptible to extremist influence and recruitment.

African troops conduct lifesaving medical training during Flintlock (Source: DVIDS)

In addition to supporting the hard work of those 2,000 soldiers during the course of the exercise, I also had the chance to engage in more enjoyable activities. After two weeks of rigorous training, US troops and their African partners bonded over a screening of the film Black Panther, put on by the US Embassy in Burkina Faso.

Experiences like this allow soldiers to connect with one another and further strengthen interpersonal relationships amongst brothers in arms. I can attest to the importance of this type of bonding from my own experiences in the military, both in West Africa and around the world.

Bonding opportunities outside of military training, such as this screening hosted by the US Embassy in Burkina Faso, are crucial to strengthening relationships amongst soldiers. (Source: DVIDS)

Spirit of America is proud to have successfully supported Flintlock for the past five years and is already engaged in planning for Flintlock 2020. This support helps reinforce the relationships that are critical to countering extremism, build the capabilities of West African partners, and increase security and stability in a region plagued by conflict.

I’m proud to continue to support this important work in a region I’ve come to love over the past decade, both in the Army and today.

Until next time,

Andy Duhon
Project Manager – West Africa

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