The drills, known as Flintlock, have begun in Ivory Coast as French troops begin to exit and militant groups continue to move across West Africa.

A main focus of the exercises will be information sharing, as stated during the opening ceremony.
A main focus of the exercises will be information sharing, as stated during the opening ceremony. (Reuters)

US-led military drills have begun in Ivory Coast, maintaining the West's counter-terror commitment in West Africa after France announced its withdrawal from Mali.

The exercises, known as Flintlock, began on Sunday and will bring together more than 400 soldiers from across West Africa to bolster the skills of forces, some of which are under regular attack by militant groups.

It involves the armies of the United States, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon and Niger and is supported by France, Britain, Canada, Austria and the Netherlands. It will end on February 28.

Military juntas have snatched power in some of those African countries since 2020, raising concerns about a return to West Africa's reputation as a "coup belt".

Central to this year's drill is co-ordination between different forces.

"A main focus of Flintlock is information sharing. If we can't communicate, we can't work together," said Admiral Jamie Sands, Commander of the US Special Operations Command Africa, at the opening ceremony.

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Militants linked to al Qaeda and Daesh roam across large areas of the Sahel, the arid band of terrain south of the Sahara Desert.

Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have been overrun by attacks since 2015 that have killed thousands and uprooted more than 2 million people. Security experts say militants have infiltrated coastal countries including Benin and Ivory Coast.

The groups ghost across poorly-policed borders, confounding a mosaic of local and international forces who have spent billions of dollars trying eliminate the threat.

France has led the fight against the militants since 2013, but popular opposition to its intervention has grown.

Last week it said it would leave Mali, moving instead to Niger.

Diplomats fear the exit of 2,400 French troops from Mali - the epicentre of the violence - could further destabilise the region.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies