African force have started a US-led counter terrorism training programme in Senegal on Monday over rising signs of collaborations between militants groups across North Africa and the Sahel, according to a US commander.
The programme was opened on a dusty airstrip in Senegal’s central city of Thies, which involves around 1,700 mostly African special operation forces and Western partners, including France and Germany, among more than 30 countries participating.
US commander for Special Operation Command in Africa Brigadier General, Donald Bolduc, told reporters that the increase collaboration between militant groups meant they have been able to increase more attacks on the region.
The annual programme "Flintlock" exercises began weeks after an attack launched by Al Qaeda militants in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, killing at least 30 people.
The exercises were called Flintlock, after a type of firearm, to symbolise readiness for any threat according to Nathan Broshear, spokesman for US Special Operations Command Africa.
"We have watched that collaboration manifest itself with DAESH becoming more effective in North Africa, Boko Haram becoming more deadly in the Lake Chad Basin [and] Al Qaeda adopting asymmetrical attacks ... against urban infrastructure," he said.
Bolduc also said cooperation had increased as DAESH benefit from a power vacuum in Libya in trying to expand its self-proclaimed caliphate, which took control of large areas in Syria and Iraq.
"We know in Libya that they [Al Qaeda and DAESH] are working more closely together. It's more than just influence, they [Al Qaeda] are really taking direction from them," he said.
Bolduc emphasized on the importance of regional cooperation and intelligence-sharing and said the United States would help Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon establish a joint intelligence unit by the middle of next year.
Burkina Faso attack and a hotel attack in Mali’s capital in November led to a greater attempt on preparing for urban attacks through training to boost cooperation among military forces and police.
The programme will also include anti-Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) training, upon the request of African partners.
An annual event since 2005, the programme will run from February 8 through 29. Some exercises will also be held in Mauritania.