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June 6, 2005
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By Charlie Coon
Stars and Stripes Mideast edition
STUTTGART, Germany — Soldiers are trained to fight wars.
But the U.S. military is about to begin its largest “peace operation” in Africa with the deployment of about 1,000 troops to seven nations for an exercise called Flintlock 05.
Soldiers from special operations, civil affairs and other units will be working with their African counterparts in an ongoing effort to make their nations more stable and less susceptible to extremists, especially ones who threaten the U.S. and like-minded nations.
One of the teams, called “Team Niger,” will be hunkering down near the center of the impoverished, mostly desert nation.
Team Niger will fly early this week into Niamey, the capital city, before heading out hundreds of miles into the sub-Sahara. Upon arrival at their destination, soldiers will set up their camp for sleeping and other survival needs.
They will establish phone, radio and text communication with other units in northern Africa and elsewhere.
Security measures also will be established.
Plans have already been made in case something goes wrong. The team considers the threat level in Niger to be “moderate,” meaning trouble is not likely but still possible. They will be well-armed just in case.
For Team Niger, Special Forces soldiers – also known as Green Berets – were drawn from units in Germany and Alabama. They will be training the Niger troops on how to conduct patrols and wage battles, and to shoot their weapons with efficiency, among other tasks.
Civil affairs soldiers from various locations have been tasked to identify good sites for future humanitarian missions. They also will work with local vendors to procure food and other supplies.
The surgical troops will be from the 160th Forward Surgical Team at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. They will work with Green Berets to train the Niger soldiers on combat medical skills, as well as give treatment to the African troops. They also will be on hand in case medical care is needed.
The mission is scheduled to take about one month.
Soldiers will be bringing cash because few businesses in Niger take credit cards.
But there probably won't be much need for currency. Soldiers will be eating boxed Meals, Ready-to-Eat. Two MREs per day have been budgeted for each soldier. They'll obtain local chow if it is available and deemed safe.
Some cash might be needed, too, if they get a chance to travel into local towns for souvenir shopping. Odds are they won't find anything fancy. The soldiers already have been briefed about the Third World culture shock that they'll experience.
The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 100s during the day and the 80s and 90s at night. Niger is about three times the size of California, and conditions are normally hot, dry and dusty. But June marks the start of the rainy season, which could produce mud and mosquitoes.
The soldiers will sleep on the cots they bring, inside of mosquito nets. They'll take malaria pills every day. There likely will be no running water, and the troops will be shaking out their clothes each day in case any critters crawled inside.
Troops will have to follow General Order No. 1, which prohibits alcohol, among other things.
Training of African troops will represent the bulk of the exercise, but there will be another part, a four-day command post exercise to be performed in Dakar, Senegal.
Troops from the seven nations will be thrown into a crisis to solve. In addition to Senegal, the participating nations are Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Algeria and Tunisia.
Flintlock 05, like a number of recent U.S. military initiatives in Africa, is what the U.S. European Command calls a “Phase Zero” exercise. They also call it “peace operations” that are meant to prevent the need for future “phases” used in the buildup to war.
“Phase Zero” operations use expertise from different agencies, such as the State Department, to help determine how U.S. troops can best be used in peace operations.
“Prevention is fairly wide-ranging and a little out of our comfort zone,” said Rear Adm. Hamlin Tallent, director of the EUCOM's European Plans and Operations Center, in a December interview with Stars and Stripes.
“There is a huge political, diplomatic, informational and economic play here. Future military planning efforts will incorporate a lot of traditionally non-military players. How do you put them into the process and conduct military planning?
“We look at a country and say, ‘what do we want to happen in the next five, 10, 15, 20 years?' Then we say, ‘What can we do to have the effects that will get us there?'”
Team Niger and Flintlock 05 will be the most recent effort by the U.S. military on the road to its desired end-state in Africa – stable, open governments that are effective allies in reducing poverty and fighting terrorism.
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