The Netherlands and the War on Terror … in Africa

Posted on | februari 13, 2011 | No Comments

US Joint Special Operations Task Force - Trans-Sahara

The Netherlands does not only send police trainers to Afghanistan, but also military trainers to Africa, defence periodical Jane’s Defence Weekly reports. The mission covers a territory larger than Western Europe. It is part of an exercise operation that takes place in Algeria, Chad and Senegal, to name a few. The training will focus on fighting illegal arms trade, smuggling and human trafficking, according to Jane’s. So many positive goals in one sentence calls for some skepticism. Especially when we realize what kind of troops involved.

The exercise is named Flintlock. Flintlock is also the term for an igniter for small arms. Not really a name for an operation tackling illegal arms trade. And so that’s not really what it is. Flintlock is a permanent activity in the framework of the American war against the terrorism (Operation Enduring Freedom, OEF). It is organized around the Special Forces, the US troops best equipped and trained for heavy fighting in small and independent groups and for almost surgical individual operations for collecting information, or killing individuals.

Flintlock is an exercise operation established and coordinated through the US Joint Special Operations Task Force – Trans-Sahara (JSOTF-TS). It is not solely focused on training, but it is a multinational military activity of which training allies is an aspect. Already in 2005, 700 American Special Forces trained 2,100 badly armed soldiers from North and West-African countries, under the name Flintlock. The Netherlands is involved since that time.

Connected to Flintlock, a permanent Multinational Co-ordination Center (MCC) created to streamline the counter-terrorism activities in Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Chad. When asked, the Dutch ministry of Defence affirmed a few dozen Dutch marines and commando troopers are in Senegal, Chad and Burkina Faso from mid January until half March 2011. They will practice Special Forces operations with forces from those three countries and a number of other European and African countries. Which other countries will participate the ministry of Defence does not want to tell: “Not all countries want to make that public.”

Last year the Dutch weekly military paper, the Defensiekrant, interviewed four Dutch soldiers that took part in Flintlock: Emiel of the army, Rob of the marines and the commandos Eric and Tom. They all said they were eager to return. Rob on Senegal: “You can hike sixty kilometers from the coast into the country, straight through the mangroves. Fantastic!” The largest mangrove area of Senegal lies in the Casamance. In this southern part of Senegal a small armed independency movement is active. In December last year seven Senegalese soldiers died during a clash, Radio France Internationale reported.. The training provided will thus be welcomed by the Senegalese. For arms trade EU criteria exist to measure the effect of trade on human rights, security and development. How about comparable rules for providing training in regions of tension or with high risk of human rights violations? A question which should be asked in parliament.

A high ranked Dutch military, Major General Tom Middendorp, last year watched the operations and came also back enthusiastically. “The particulars of this formula is that you not only train African troops, but also conduct cross training with the participating countries under heavy circumstances. Many goals in one go. Formerly we sent observers only, now we joined with some troops. To me this seems something to repeat,” the Defensiekrant quoted the general. Half a year later this is exactly what happens.

For the United States Flintlock is an operation in the framework of the fight against terrorism. US officer John Williamson, responsible for organizing Flintlock, is glad with the Dutch contribution. He says in a press explanation of JSOTF: “(…) the increased participation of our European SOF partners such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain in tactical training and MCC activities, underscores the importance of our desire for an international approach toward trans-border terrorist threats.”

The Netherlands is regarding Flintlock as an exercise during which Special Forces train others and themselves, according to the Dutch ministry of Defence. It is not seen as an operation. This is despite the fact the US regards it as such and although there is a permanent command structure. But the semantics around the participation clearly shows the Netherlands are involved in the War on Terror or Operation Enduring Freedom on more than one front. Not only in Afghanistan, as is easily forgotten because of all attention for the new deployment in Kunduz.

* Zapatero ofrece a EE UU aumentar su presencia militar en España [Zapatero offered to increase U.S. military presence in Spain], Ignacio Cembrero, El Pais, Madrid December 7, 2010.
* Training in Trans-Sahara Africa, Max R. Blumenfeld, JSOTF-TS Public Affairs, GAO, Mali, December 13, 2010.
* Flintlock 2010 traint Afrikaanse troepen in Special Forces-operaties [Flintlock 2010 trains African troops for Special Forces operations], Defensiekrant no. 26, July 8, 2010.
* Spain joins anti-insurgency exercises, Jane’s Defence Weekly, February 2nd, 2011.

AUTHOR: Martin Broek

EDITOR: Frank van Schaik


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