OUALLAM, Niger - The Indiana National Guard and Nigerien armed forces trained together during the multinational exercise Flintlock 18 during 12 days in April.
The commander of Special Operations Command Africa, Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks, highlighted the significance of the training location and the partnership.
"Niger is a central player in most all of the violent extremist threats in northern Africa, so they are a natural partner. They are a very good partner, a very willing partner and capable as well," Hicks said.
With growing threats from extremist groups in the Sahel and Lake Chad region, Flintlock allows the Indiana National Guard to train side-by-side with a partner force while developing skills in a multinational, joint training environment.
"Flintlock represents a new level of cooperation ... in a troubled region," said Hicks."We do this as brothers in arms."
The larger aim is to help soldiers assigned to this region and incoming partner forces be better prepared to fight groups such as al-Qaida, Islamic State affiliates and Boko Haram.
"I think the key word here is interoperability," said a Soldier with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group, a detachment with the Indiana National Guard."We need to understand how they operate, and they need to understand how we operate so that in the future we can work seamlessly together."
Flintlock 18 served as an opportunity to work alongside other forces at a strategic and granular level to hone skills that would normally be practiced at a unit level, thus allowing real-time communication and feedback.
"A lot of the joint training focused on reacting to an ambush, conducting a raid, taking information provided by locals and using that for future mission planning," said the 20th Group Soldier.
The Indiana National Guard has a 20-plus year partnership with Slovakia, but only recently signed another State Partnership Program agreement with Niger in 2017.
Flintlock, which traditionally emphasizes tactical proficiency of small units, shifted its focus this year to the command and control of joint forces based on recent real-world threats of the violent extremist organizations currently threatening the area.
This Flintlock exercise took place just six months after the ambush in Niger that resulted in the deaths of four U.S. Soldiers and one Nigerien soldier. The attack showed the inherent risks that Niger and the U.S. face in the region.
"Africa matters to us because it is a preventive-medicine theater versus an emergency-medicine theater," said Hicks."What I mean by that is these threats, as they exist in Africa, are at a level where they can be dealt with."