On Saturday March 11, the U.S. military conducted its first maritime drills with West African troops under its long-running Flintlock programme which is intended to strengthen the ability of key partner nations in the region to counter violent extremist organisations, collaborate across borders, and provide security to its citizens.
The drill, which was carried out in Ghana’s Volta river, involved a sea-based training exercise and culminated with soldiers storming a beach resort to defuse a staged hostage crisis. High-ranking military officials, diplomats and other stakeholders watched the exercise.
Admiral Milton Sands, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command for Africa (SOCAF), said the programme had expanded to help coastal nations in the region cope with maritime threats such as piracy and illegal fishing. Unauthorised fishing “is a significant one that we’re really trying to work with our partners to get our arms around slowing down,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Around 350 troops took part in the drills including servicemen from Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria. The Gulf of Guinea has become a global piracy hotspot in recent years although cases have fallen in the region since 2021, according to the U.N. Security Council.
However, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has spread along West Africa’s coast, sapping an estimated $9.4 billion per year through illicit financial flows, according to a 2022 report by the Financial Transparency Coalition of non-governmental organisations. Of the top 10 companies they found to be involved in IUU fishing in the region, 8 were Chinese and a third of all vessels sported Chinese flags.
Commodore Godwin Livinus Bessing, commander of Ghana’s Naval Training Command, said tackling IUU fishing had become a top priority, citing a lack of resources to deal with the foreign boats stealing from Ghana’s waters.
“They continue to flout our regulations because of our enforcement capabilities,” he said. “That is one of the biggest problems. If we had enough ships out there and they knew we were monitoring the place, we would be able to curb the situation.”
Flintlock has taken place annually since 2005 across the Sahel region of Africa among nations participating in the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership. Last year, Côte d’Ivoire hosted Flintlock 2022, with more than 400 participants from ten nations.
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