US conducts counter-terrorism drills in West Africa
A two-week US-led counter-terrorism exercise that assembled over 400 soldiers from across West Africa with the aim of combatting extremist violence in the region has concluded in Ghana. According to the US military trainers overseeing the drills, the platform was also used to press nations in the region to rely on each other rather than on non-Western powers.
Military personnel from Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria took part in the exercises, dubbed ‘Flintlock’, which wrapped up on March 15. During the maritime and cross-border drills, soldiers learned, among other things, how to use motorcycles to counter jihadist insurgent attacks.
“You have governments with so many problems that they begin reaching out to other malign actors who are perhaps more exploitive of the resources in those countries,” Colonel Robert Zyla of the US Special Operations Command Africa told Reuters.
This comes amid growing anti-French sentiment in Mali and Burkina Faso, where demands have been made for the complete withdrawal of French military forces as the influence of former colonial powers wanes.
Meanwhile, concerns are growing in the West about Russia’s growing influence in Africa, particularly its military ties with Burkina Faso and Mali, as the Sahel region struggles to control the rising security threats posed by Jihadist groups, which have claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions.
French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Russia of having a “predatory” influence in African nations.
“You only have to look at what’s going on in the Central African Republic or elsewhere to see that the Russian project under way there, when France is pushed aside, is a project of predation,” Macron said last year.
Meanwhile, despite Western criticism, junta-ruled Burkina Faso and Mali continue to strengthen diplomatic ties with Russia, with the former French colonies receiving donations of Soviet-era military equipment from Moscow.
Sukhoi Su-25 attack planes and Czech-designed Albatros L-39 bombers were delivered to Mali in January of this year to bolster the country’s efforts in countering the jihadist insurgency that has plagued the West African nation since 2012. Russia and Burkina Faso have also reached an agreement on military and technological cooperation.
At the same time, the US has expressed concerns about China establishing a naval base in West Africa, with General Michael Langley, head of US Africa Command, insisting at a recent hearing that a Chinese naval facility would provide Beijing with an “advantage” over Washington.