Texas Special Ops support US counterterrorism efforts in Africa

Maj. Sean Vieira, Special Operations Detachment planner, works to develop campaign plans with African counterparts during the 2014 FLINTLOCK exercise in Niger.
Maj. Sean Vieira, Special Operations Detachment planner, works to develop campaign plans with African counterparts during the 2014 FLINTLOCK exercise in Niger. The exercise allowed U.S. forces to work with partner nations to expand their capabilities to combat terrorism.

Story by: 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy


NIAMEY, Niger - Texas Army National Guard Special Operators recently returned from a monthlong mission to Africa where they worked to bolster the counterterrorism capabilities in the northwest region of the continent. 

Special Operations Detachment – Africa (Airborne), one of the newest units in the Texas Army National Guard, deployed from mid-February to mid-March to Niger, Africa, serving as the overall command and control headquarters for the U.S. Africa Command’s FLINTLOCK exercise. 

This premier exercise is designed to help build the counterterrorism capacity of African partner countries. Special Operations forces from eight African countries and 11 Western European countries participated in the event that was performed in four locations across Niger. 

Building partner capacity is a key tenant in the war on terror. Special Operations forces, like SOD-A, routinely work to bolster abilities of partner countries so they are able to defend their borders from terrorist activity and attacks. 

To address the emerging and ongoing security threats in Africa, U.S. armed forces, other U.S. government agencies and international partners have been working closely together - training and fighting side-by-side - to thwart the spread of violent extremist groups.

Nowhere is this model more relevant than Niger, which has been described as the crossroads for African terrorism, said Col. Douglas O’Connell, SOD-A commander. 

Niger is adjacent to Mali, Nigeria, Libya and Algeria - all countries that are currently battling al-Qaida or affiliated terrorist groups. 

Proliferation of al-Qaida-linked extremist groups in the area presented real-world threats to troops who trained, mentored and advised partner nations in command and control, airborne operations and small unit tactics.

“This exercise is occurring at a time when our nations are faced with multiple obstacles within our region, which requires strong resolve to confront terrorism,” said Nigerien Chief of Staff M. Koridio Mahamadou. 

The annual, joint exercise, hosted by Special Operations Command-Africa since 2005, is a multifaceted, multinational training that consisted of airdrops of equipment and personnel, live-fire exercises, long range patrolling and support, mission planning and control at the operational level, and humanitarian relief operations that provided medical and dental care to the local populace. Interfacing with the other nations presented an opportunity for increased interoperability, counter-terrorism, and combat skills training for the African and Western nation partners.

Under SOD-A’s leadership, more than 1,000 troops from all four branches of the U.S. armed forces, Africa, Europe, and other Western partner nations played a role in the exercise, which was SOD-A’s new unit validation exercise.

“Your presence reflects your interest in our regional partnerships,” said Nigerien Col. Mahoamane Laminou Sani, FLINTLOCK country coordinator.

The goal of the exercise is to expand the partner nations’ capabilities to combat terrorism and enhance their tactical, operations and strategic capabilities.

SOD-A officers also mentored African officers, and the detachment conducted a unique airborne operation involving jumpers from all four U.S. military services, European parachutists and jumpmasters from Niger. At the conclusion of the parachute jump, SOD-A members were awarded Nigerien Jump Wings.

However, beyond the tactical and strategic operations, SOD-A operators understood the significance of building relationships.

“Relationships matter,” O’Connell said. “You can't attempt to influence any events or outcomes in Africa without first building a personal relationship with your host nation counterpart. Special operators understand this, which is why we are ideally suited for these types of missions.”

SOD-A is a unique reserve component comprised of highly experienced special operations soldiers and key enablers such as intelligence, logistics and communications. 

With the multinational flavor of FLINTLOCK combined with the very real threat, proved to be the ideal exercise to test the detachment’s readiness to conduct operations. The detachment’s mission is to deploy and provide command and control of joint and combined special operations forces 

“The soldiers who have joined SOD-A are looking for a chance to conduct real-world operations in challenging and extreme environments,” O’Connell said.

Yet, these highly-qualified service members did much more than execute realistic counterterrorism training. Without question, they contributed to the counterterrorism capabilities of America’s partners throughout Africa.