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Part of the U.S. strategy to fight ISIS is to help other countries wage their own fights against the terrorist group. The U.S. military is wrapping up counterterrorism training this week in West Africa, where U.S. troops have been helping regional armies battling the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram insurgency. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been watching one of these exercises in Chad.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Four flat-bottom boats with mounted machine guns brimming with Chadian and allied special forces round the curve along the Chari Logone River. As they approach the river bank, they discharge heavily armed troops in the capital N'Djamena. The objective for the assault force is to neutralize a Boko Haram leader, who's nestled in a huddle of thatched huts on the far side of the river front in Chad across from neighboring Cameroon.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)
QUIST-ARCTON: The gunfire is a training scenario and part of Operation Flintlock 2017, an annual regional exercise involving African allied and U.S. counterterrorism forces. The regional security forces must protect civilians but also enhance combat skills and radically reduce sanctuary and support for violent extremism across West Africa and the Sahel. U.S. Special Operations officers are involved and require anonymity.
A commander with Alpha Company 1st Battalion and 3r Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is supervising the exercises here in Chad and across the region.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We have a regional issue of Boko Haram, an agile, adaptive force who easily exploits the seams between international boundaries, especially when you have something like a river way that separates two nations. And they currently use islands in the middle of this pretty broad river to hide out in. And it's an easy area to have ungoverned and hard to police and patrol.
The Special Anti-Terrorism Group, the SATG in Chad, are also adapting their techniques to deal with the threat from Boko Haram.
QUIST-ARCTON: Battle-hardened Chadian Special Forces are familiar with this role. For the past few years, they've been taking on Boko Haram extremists since violence spilled over the border from northeastern Nigeria, home to the group that has wreaked havoc, killed thousands and driven millions of civilians from their homes. Lieutenant Colonel Brahim Mahamat Dahab is Chad's chief of staff for Operation Flintlock.
BRAHIM MAHAMAT DAHAB: (Foreign language spoken).
QUIST-ARCTON: "Chadian forces are used to pursuing and capturing Boko Haram fighters," says Brahim. "We are experienced. The objective here is reinforcing capacity to show that Chad can work with the Americans, the Italians, militaries from any country as well as our neighbors," he says. "That's what we want to demonstrate."
DAHAB: (Foreign language spoken).
QUIST-ARCTON: Brahim tells NPR passionately, "we need to share that knowledge with others who are also fighting Boko Haram."
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And the high-value target has been eliminated.
QUIST-ARCTON: Back on the banks of the Chari Logone River in the Chadian capital, the exercise is coming to an end. The target, the Boko Haram leader, has been neutralized, and the troops are heading back down the river under heavy cover from their colleagues, ensuring their safety the same way they hope a real life operation would be accomplished. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, in N'Djamena, Chad.