In the searing heat of the afternoon sun, two rows of Malian soldiers face each other about 25 meters apart. Both groups are under the watchful eye of their Czech Special Forces instructors. Off to the side, a State Department analyst observes the activity.
One row of soldiers is tasked with charging their fellow trainees at the instructor’s command, while the other row must demonstrate they can quickly and calmly execute a magazine change with their M9 pistols. As the soldiers await the signal, the charging row pulls their knives from their sheaths and make cutting movements across their throats, glaring fiercely at the opposing row. The instructor barks “go,” and the soldiers begin yelling and launch their assault. Hurriedly, the magazine-changing row struggles to get their magazines into their pistols before the other row is upon them.
Afterwards, it was clear that the soldiers enjoyed the challenge, and it speaks highly of their trust in one another to execute this type of drill without hesitation. The soldiers’ motivation never wavered and demonstrated rapid improvement in their overall capabilities throughout the duration of the exercise. This first time, soldiers achieved about a 50 percent success rate. By the end of several rotations, the success rate is closer to 90 percent. That is exactly what the Czech Special Forces instructors wanted to see from the Malian Bataillon Autonome des Forces Spéciales (BAFS) troops with whom they are working as part of Exercise FLINTLOCK 2019.
This is one vignette of many that were observed during FLINTLOCK 2019, Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA)’s exercise held from February 11 to March 2. FLINTLOCK exercises are an annual regional exercise and have taken place since 2005 in nations across the Sahel, and include African, allied and U.S. counterterrorism forces. The exercises are designed to develop capacity and foster collaboration among African security forces, facilitating regional cooperation to enable our African partners to stabilize regions of North and West Africa while reducing sanctuary and support for violent extremist organizations (VEOs).
Seven Department of State monitoring and evaluation (M&E) analysts participated in the SOCAFRICA-sponsored Interagency Assessment Team (IAT). This is only the second time State Department has participated in monitoring and evaluation of the exercise; State Department bureaus represented included Political-Military Affairs Bureau, African Affairs, and Diplomatic Security. Monitoring and evaluation analysts combined efforts to evaluate the exercise’s training activities and provide a comprehensive understanding on the impact of a number of different State security assistance programs.
To gain better insight into how participating countries are using U.S. security assistance, M&E analysts embedded themselves at four exercise locations in Burkina Faso: Camp Zagré outside of Ouagadougou, Loumbila, Pô, and Bobo Dioulasso and one located in Atar, Mauritania. By placing analysts at each location, they observed first-hand a range of training activities and captured the progress of training, the dynamics of the multinational environment, and consider areas of focus for future training investments.
In Loumbila, the evaluation focus was on the Malian BAFS, as they progressed through the training provided by the Czech Special Forces. The BAFS soldiers were well disciplined, listened intently to all instruction, took notes, internalized the instruction, and applied it during their practical exercises. Training included basic weapons handling skills, marksmanship, Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) training, and practical exercises (e.g., dressing different types of notional wounds, inserting a breathing tube through a nostril, expedient casualty evacuation), Close Quarters Combat (CQC), raids, and Countering Improvised Explosive Devices (C-IED).
The Czech Special Forces said they were using FLINTLOCK 2019 partially as a training vehicle for themselves, as they faced the challenge of instructing soldiers from other nations using translators, which they had never done before. They said this was well worth the effort to gain valuable experience, and they especially enjoyed working with the BAFS soldiers.
The Czechs said they much prefer working with motivated soldiers like the BAFS rather than with soldiers whose attitudes are indifferent. The Czech team demonstrated a lot of euthusiasm and motivation themselves, and they provided very robust training, real-world techniques, and practical exercises for C-VEO operations.
The experience was professionally rewarding for the State analysts, too, primarily because they observed first-hand the impact of State programs by meeting and working with individuals that are the direct recipients of program investments. In addition, it exposed team members to other State programs that are contributing in their own way to building the capabilities and capacity of our African partner military, security force, and law enforcement units. A key success of the IAT was compiling the first ever, comprehensive roster of African partner participants at a FLINTLOCK exercise, which provides SOCAFRICA greater insight into the backgrounds and previous training experience of participants. The team also gained great insight into the range of activities that our European SOF counterparts are conducting with our African partners and why.
The State IAT members have shared information collected from the exercise with other State and DoD program offices that also contribute to African partners, such as the Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF) and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). This information sharing effort is meant to amplify the lessons learned from the IAT. The next iteration of FLINTLOCK will be held in February 2020 and planning is already underway.
About the author: Christopher Blaylock is the Deputy Team Lead for Monitoring and Evaluation in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Security Assistance.