Excellencies, Sirs, honorable colleagues, and assembled forces of our many nations:
It is a tremendous honor to join you as we conclude Flintlock 2020. And I am grateful to the government, armed forces, and people of Senegal and Mauritania for hosting this transregional exercise.
We just heard the fantastic anthem of this nation, and I would like to repeat its stirring lyrics as we consider the achievements of the past weeks:
Bilāda al ubāti al hudati al-kirām
Wa-hisna al-kitābi al-ladhī lā youdām
Ayā Mūrītāni rabii al-wi-ām
Wa-rukna as-samāḥati tha-ġra as-salām
The country of the honorable guidance of our parents,
And the fortress of the unbound Book.
Oh, Mauritania, harmony shall spring forth,
And the pillar of forgiveness is the opening to peace.
Harmony. Honor. Peace. Could there be any more appropriate framework for security cooperation to reflect on Flintlock 2020?
Rabī’i al-wi’ām: harmony. We are gathered today as our respective national forces conclude exercises to enhance their capabilities in counter terrorism, civil-military relations, and interoperability. But more than being an opportunity for us each to improve individually, Flintlock is an opportunity for all our nations to grow together, in healthy partnership.
Not all partnerships are healthy. But the one we celebrate here today is. How can I tell? Simple: Because it is a partnership based on mutual respect and shared values, not self-interest and exploitation. Because partnership contributes to self-sufficiency – not lasting dependency – and to sustainable capability – not burdensome debt. Partnership is not just a means to an end, but a path which we value for the friendships it creates, and the lessons we all learn, side-by-side.
And, it works. We not only train together, we win together. Today our forces are engaged in the defeat of violent extremism from the shores of the Red Sea to the coast of the Atlantic; together, we are combating piracy and countering illicit trafficking from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Guinea; across the Sahel, we are cementing security, and pursuing peace.
In Flintlock we see the paradigm of healthy partnership: the forces of over three dozen nations working together in a partnership that is not just healthy, but positively effervescent, and which gives to each country represented here the opportunity for self-reflection and self-improvement, while giving to the region, and to the world, the opportunity for stability, security, and lasting peace.
There is another factor that lies at the heart of successful partnership, which brings me to the second theme from the Mauritanian anthem: honor: bilāda al ubāti al hudati al-kirām.
The United States has an unwavering and longstanding commitment to Africa. We support good governance, security, the rule of law, opportunities for economic growth, and anti-corruption efforts. U.S. programs have opened the U.S. market to African goods, helped to contain Ebola outbreaks, brought electricity to rural areas, and helped Africans grow more and healthier food. Our relationship is one of cooperation, mutual respect, and transparency, and today no other nation can match the United States’ commitment the continent.
A secure, prosperous and stable Africa is an enduring American interest: indeed, it is an enduring global interest, and we will continue to engage actively with our African partners to advance peace and security through bilateral, regional, and multilateral channels. For decades, the United States demonstrated this commitment through sustained efforts to build defense capacity, particularly through professional military education, grant assistance, security agreements, joint exercises, training, and military exchanges.
Our men and women in uniform, including many of my former comrades-in-arms, have fought, with honor, alongside African forces, shedding their blood in pursuit of security on this continent and beyond, from the fight against AQIM and ISIS in the west, to the struggle against al Shabbab in the east. We honor the sacrifices all of our forces have made.
And the United States will honor, as well, its commitments to Africa as we strive with you, and with the international assembly of militaries who join us here today, to achieve security, and lasting peace.
Peace: rukna as-samāḥati tha-ġra as-salām. What is the relevance of this to our work in the battles against the vicious militant threats driving this year’s Flintlock exercise?
The answer is if we truly desire peace to take root, then the mission of our security forces in countering violent extremism cannot be only to defeat our enemies; it must be to ensure that an environment exists that does not nurture their re-growth.
We must prove to citizens they are valued by their governments, that their inalienable rights matter. Avoidable civilian casualties, unauthorized searches, and sexual abuse are completely unacceptable.
Furthermore, this type of behavior may convince civilians that security forces are not on their side, thus making our enemies’ arguments for them. Challenging extremism requires us to challenge ourselves to do better.
One of the core focuses of Flintlock exercise over the years is on civil-military relations, at the heart of which, is reconciliation – between civilian populations of varying identities, and between the security forces and the civilian populations. Reconciliation – forgiveness – truly is the opening to peace.
I have spoken today of partnership, of commitment. But you, the forces and observers of these many nations from around the world, you have regularly practiced them.
From the desert plateau of Adrar to the leafy streets of Thies, you have exercised, you have bonded, you have exchanged skills of the battlefield and stories of home, you have become the embodiment of our nations’ common desire for a safer world built upon professional security, respect for the rule of law, and healthy cooperation and partnership.
On behalf of the United States Government, to all of you, and particularly to our African partners, my sincere thank you, shook-ran, merci. And a special thank you again, to the hosts of this Exercise, Senegal and Mauritania.
Looking out over this multinational audience of professional soldiers, security personnel, and civilian leaders, one thing is absolutely clear to me, and to all of us, and to all of those watching in capitals around the world: At Flintlock 2020, harmony has sprung forth! Ayā Mūrītāni rabī’i al-wi’ām!