US-led anti-jihadist military drills began in Ivory Coast on Sunday, maintaining the West’s counter-terror commitment in West Africa after France announced its withdrawal from Mali.
Flintlock involves the armies of the United States, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, and Niger and is supported by France, Britain, Canada, Austria, and the Netherlands. It will end on February 28.
Jihadist attacks have hit northern Ivory Coast and fellow Gulf of Guinea states Benin and Ghana as fighting spilled over from Sahel nations — Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali — that have long battled insurgencies.
“The fact that we can be here today is a real testament to our ability to overcome adversities to achieve our common goals,” said Jamie Sands, commander of the US army’s operations in Africa.
Sands officially launched the exercise at the International Anti-Terrorism Academy in the town of Jacqueville, near Ivory Coast’s economic hub Abidjan.
“The Ivorian army is ready to deal with terrorism,” said Ivory Coast’s army chief General Lassina Doumbia.
The drills come after France announced it would withdraw its troops from an almost decade-long anti-jihadist mission in Mali, Barkhane, and from Europe’s Task Force Takuba.
The forces are due to be redeployed to other countries in the region, particularly Mali’s neighbor Niger.
Abidjan hosts 900 French soldiers, who offer logistical support to Barkhane as one of their main responsibilities.