Host Location: Various
Summary: Exercise Flintlock is an annual regional exercise among African, Western, and US counterterrorism forces. The exercise has a special operations focus. It began as a Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET)-like program conducted by US European Command (EUCOM). In 2005, what had become a formalized annual exercise program became paired with what was initially known as the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative (TSCTI). In addition, the US military initiated Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans Sahara, the US Department of Defense contribution to the TSCTI. Joint Special Operations Task Force – Trans Sahara subsequently became the lead entity responsible for planning, coordinating, and executing Exercise Flintlock. In 2008, a unified command for the majority of Africa was established as US Africa Command (AFRICOM). AFRICOM subsequently took over responsibilities previously held by EUCOM relating to the area of operations, including Exercise Flintlock, Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans Sahara, and what was retitled as the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). Flintlock remained an important element of the TSCTP throughout these transitions.
The Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program was specifically designed to support US Special Forces training requirements in overseas environments. Although JCET exercises first had to satisfy Special Forces mission essential task list requirements, the exercise was also intended to be a training opportunity for the host nation. JCETs could include NCO development, light infantry training, peacekeeping operations, medical operations, human rights training, humanitarian relief operations, airborne operations or leadership training in varying amounts-again based on the needs of the Special Forces and the host nation. Though conducted by Army Special Forces, the Department of Defense paid for JCET training events.
In an effort to enhance sub-regional cooperation and expose Special Forces to a variety of African military experiences, the 5th Special Forces Group combined JCET events within an African sub-region along a common scenario. By the late 1980s, these events, referred to by the codename “Flintlock”, were conducted by EUCOM twice annually. The exercise scenarios could include JCET-type events or other operations, such as disaster management, search and rescue, multi-purpose range construction or combat lifesaver courses. Flintlock events, like JCETs, had to first satisfy US special operations forces training requirements and use Department of Defense funds to conduct the training event. EUCOM and Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) determined Flintlock locations.
Though led by Army Special Forces, Flintlock events eventually incorporated other special operations forces. In addition, though they were hosted in various African nations, the training provided was not limited to the host nation’s forces. Other African forces and contingents from NATO have participated in Flintlock exercises over the years.
Flintlock 2009 was hosted by Mali and saw the first operational deployment of the US Air Force’s CV-22 Osprey aircraft. Four CV-22 Ospreys from the 8th Special Operations Squadron at Hulburt Field, Florida deployed to Mali to support the Exercise. Members of the 1st Special Operations Helicopter Maintenance Squadron deployed to Bamako in support of the 8th Special Operations Squadron. The exercise was held at a remote location rather than an established base, creating a significant maintenance challenge, as the unit was required to self-deploy with all the parts and equipment they needed to keep the CV-22s operational for the entire exercise, and for the cumulative 10,000 nautical mile trans-Atlantic flights. In addition, the exercise did not initially include an Imam or subject-matter expert on Islam, but an Army Captain subsequently volunteered to lead religious services for interested individuals and otherwise act as a religious minority group lay-leader.
Flintlock 2010, hosted by Burkina Faso, saw the first deployment of EUCOM C-130Js. The 86th Air Wing provided two C-130Js for the exercise.
During Exercise Flintlock 2011, AFRICOM expanded its traditional approach to addressing irregular security challenges across the Trans-Sahara region of West and North Africa by incorporating engagements for the first time into Exercise Flintlock 11 that went beyond the normal tactical and operational training. AFRICOM’s Joint Special Operations Task Force – Trans Sahara conducted two strategic-level working engagements from 22 February to 4 March 2011 in Dakar, supported by the Trans-Sahara Security Symposium. The events brought together more than 70 operational-level military members, civilian ministry and national agency members, and guests and observers from Exercise Flintlock and Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership participating countries for a Counterterrorism Engagement and Senior Leader Symposium.
Exercise Flintlock 2012 had been planned to take place in Mali, but was canceled following a disruption in military-to-military collaboration between the US and the country following a military coup there in March 2012.
Flintlock 2013, hosted by Mauritania, saw the first successful integration of an African-led Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSTOF), a command and control element that integrated operations, logistics, intelligence, information operations and civil affairs, into the tactical training scenario. The CJSOTF operations center was staffed by senior officers from the Mauritanian staff college, who would receive exercise information, develop plans and then deliver the plans to the appropriate subordinate unit for execution.
Flintlock 2013 was also unique in its proximity to Mali and the involvement of western African nations in the conflict there, many of which were participating in the exercise. Previous Flintlock participants were also actively engaged in operations in Mali. However, the exercise was not specifically designed to prepare forces for that situation. Given the regional instability, Mauritania could have justified canceling the exercise, but they insisted on hosting the exercise despite numerous demands on their security forces.
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