Military forces from the United States and nine West African countries are in the midst of a two-week series of exercises aimed at improving the African forces' ability to prevent and fight terrorism.
U.S. Special Forces troops have been working for the past week in five countries, conducting comprehensive training that includes marksmanship, coordination of land and air forces, and the law of war. The countries with such exercises in progress are Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger.
On Friday, forces from four other countries will join them in a command-post exercise here in Dakar that will simulate a terrorist attack requiring a regionally coordinated response.
The U.S. spokeswoman for the exercises, Army Major Holly Silkman, says the incident just a week ago in which insurgents reportedly attacked a Mauritanian base near the Algerian border, illustrates why this region was chosen for this year's exercises.
"The whole reason we are focused on the trans-Saharan region is because of what we would call the ungoverned, cross-border areas," Major Silkman says. "So, up in, say, the border areas of Mali, Algeria, Mauritania, as the recent raid in Mauritania illustrates, these are areas where terrorists, or would-be terrorists can find sanctuary. And so, we need to be able to have these countries work together to deny external sources of support for these people."
Standing in an aircraft hangar on a Senegalese military base, Major Silkman said the armies of the region need to learn to work together to deny the terrorists such things as food, water, safe havens and the ability to move and communicate freely.
While all that is going on, other U.S. forces are involved in a variety of humanitarian operations, such as one in Dakar in which a U.S. Army medical team is working at a local clinic run by the Senegalese Army.
The senior nurse at the clinic, Senegalese Army Chief Sergeant Niouky Bienvenue, says the African and U.S. medical teams have been working side-by-side, treating dozens of patients.
Chief Sergeant Bienvenue says the two teams see patients together, give their opinions on the case, and come to an agreement on how to treat each patient. The top American doctor on the team, Major Alex Garza, says his group is learning, as well as teaching.
"The big thing that we are learning from them is a lot of tropical disease stuff, things that we do not normally see in the United States," Major Garza says. "So, like malaria, Niouky has taught me a lot about malaria in the last week or so. And what we bring to them is, sort of, a little bit of the way that western medicine maybe treats things a little bit differently. But we just both put our heads together and try and come up with the best solution for the patients."
The joint military maneuvers are scheduled to end this weekend, but some of the humanitarian operations in the various countries will continue into next month.