American forces have not shied away from working with foreign troops. Recently, troops from the U.S. turned their attention to Africa. For the betterment of the region, the Pentagon wants to help Niger improve its military operations by training foreign forces to handle security issues.
American troops offer valuable expertise
As part of the effort to stabilize West Africa, the U.S. government organized a system of training and advising for these foreign troops. Operation Flintlock—a three-week counterterrorism exercise conducted annually since 2005—includes Army Green Berets providing information on how to conduct combat patrols and foil ambushes. These drills help improve the usefulness of foreign troops already in Africa, blending the military know-how of the Americans with experience accrued by soldiers in the field.
“That’s good for us. We know that with the Americans it will be more efficient,” an officer from the French Special Forces told Reuters. “We use American logistics – that’s what we are missing. On the other hand, we provide the local knowledge.”
Although many are wary of getting too heavily involved, Americans recognize the benefits that come from collaboration and have taken steps to provide aid outside of the training. In addition to $33 million in military equipment for Niger, troops brought vitamins, medicine and mosquito netting to Flintlock. They also put together a medical clinic that assisted nearly 2,000 people in surrounding villages in the hope that this would encourage openness between troops and locals.
“It’s a balancing act,” Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, R-N.J., who serves on the Intelligence Committee, told The New York Times. “Many of these countries consider the U.S. a partner and strong ally, but they have serious concerns about what our footprint looks like.”
African training builds future intelligence
On the domestic front, inter-agency cooperation has proven benefits. When a natural disaster strikes, state and federal organizations can provide the resources and funds needed to carry out massive emergency response efforts. However, local law enforcement agencies possess the most complete understanding about the area and its inhabitants. Shared strengths can improve the outcome for the surrounding community, whether the danger is bad weather or foreign terrorism. This spirit of cooperation is something U.S. wants to pass along to Africa
“From battalion commander on down, we try to provide mentors to work, shape, mold and coach these young minds,” said Col. John Ruffing, of the USARAF Security Cooperation. “We want to train a battalion that is more than just ‘a battalion;’ showing them it’s more than the flag on the shoulder, it’s about a greater need.”
The motivation to train African soldiers is spurred by a need to strengthen foreign relationships in advance of force reductions in U.S. troops. By advising Niger, the U.S. demonstrates to the French and other forces on the ground their concern for the well-being of African troops, and it does so without taxing a downsizing military force.
The New York Times notes that additional aid, such as medical care, encourages intelligence sharing between groups. If the goodwill lasts beyond the exercise, locals may be more likely to alert troops of suspicious activity or potentially dangerous happenings. Fostering foreign relationships in this way helps open the lines of communication between U.S. forces, African soldiers and local communities.
“If you can develop a trusting relationship with people, you can gather any information you need,” Fougou Malam Saley, a Nigerian Army sergeant who was trained by American forces, told The New York Times.
As allies become familiar with each other’s protocols and resources, the U.S. will be able to improve their overseas intelligence in the face of smaller troop sizes. Everyone benefits from being able to act more efficiently in emergency response scenarios, a gain which may in turn serve to further strengthen international relations.
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