U.S., Senegal continue fight against illicit trafficking in West African nation
By Staff Sgt. Bryan Peterson, Marine Corps Forces Africa
THIES, Senegal -- Senegalese soldiers completed a month-long training exercise with U.S. Marines, March 18, at a military training facility in Thies, Senegal.
U.S. Marines with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, trained their counterparts with Senegal’s Compagnie Fusilier de Marin Commando, or COFUMACO, in infantry tactics, making this the 10th training between the two forces.
In an effort to combat illicit trafficking in the region, the Marines were in Senegal at the request of the host nation government in coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Dakar. The Marines trained with the COFUMACO in Toubacouta in the southern part of the country for two weeks before moving up to Thies.
Thanks to previous training missions focusing on small-boat operations, where the Senegalese commandos and Marines worked together on beach raids, the Marines were able to focus more on land-based infantry skills. The month-long training was tailored to patrolling, reconnaissance, raids, combat marksmanship and scouting.
“Previous teams of Marines and Coastguardsmen trained the COFUMACO in small-boats which allowed them to become proficient in making beach entries,” said 1st Lt. Justin Klein, the SPMAGTF-CR-AF team leader in Senegal. “During an exercise in Toubacouta, the commandos were able to make their own beach landing and raid on a suspected enemy compound. Once they landed, that’s when we were able to concentrate more on advanced infantry tactics.”
The continued military partnership between the U.S. Marines and the COFUMACO aims to improve life in Senegal by increasing the country’s economy while defeating the illicit financial means funding terrorist groups in West Africa, including countries in the Gulf of Guinea.
Forms of illicit trafficking include cocaine, heroin, counterfeit medicine, people, small arms, diamonds, ivory and cigarettes, among others.
According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, 2009 report, cocaine from South America, destined for Europe, enters Senegal from neighboring countries, due to increased drug interdictions in North America and an increase use in Europe.
In a 2013, “Eight Steps To Counter Drug Trade In West Africa” report by the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, thousands of U.S. troops are in the continent training and advising police and militaries to increase operational capabilities in partner nations to counter illicit trafficking, which “provides financing to dangerous terrorist organizations that pose a threat to the United States and its allies.”
Senegalese Cpl. Oba Thierno, a commando with COFUMACO, knows the Marines well, as he has participated in all but three of the partner-nation training engagements. His level of proficiency has elevated his position in the COFUMACO, where he can now move into a teaching role, gaining confidence among his subordinates.
“I have worked with the Marines since 2013 and the training they provide is very beneficial to our unit,” said Thierno. “From the start, it was tough. We weren’t use to their tactics. As times went on, we picked up on the training and started to put it to use in real life.
“When we were involved in an operation last year, my unit was ambushed and pinned down,” Thierno continued. “But, because of the training we received from the Marines, we were able to fight our way out of it with sustaining very minimal casualties.”
During COFUMACO’s final exercise March 18-19 in Thies’ dry, arid landscape, the unit set out on a patrol to locate fictitious enemy forces known to be operating in the area, who were Marines acting as the enemy.
The patrol began in the early afternoon and lasted until the next morning. At times, the commandos suspected an enemy presence and conducted reconnaissance. Ultimately, the COFUMACO found the enemy position, formulated an attack plan and neutralized the threat.
Various Marines from the team followed their counterparts only as advisors, throughout the mission.
Klein said, based off of previous missions’ after action reports, the Marines were able to train on more advanced infantry tactics due to their knowledge level and tactical proficiency.
“Much like the Marine Corps, the COFUMACO does not receive as much funding and equipment as the Senegalese Army, but still performs well,” said Klein. “When we came down here, we wanted to see where they were at and they did well. From there on out, we got more in depth and they were very tuned in to what we had to offer. They wanted to get as much training as they could.
“I believe the positive impact we can have on them is knowing they will be better prepared to fight illicit trafficking,” Klein went on to say, “or any other threat they may face. Some of these guys also have combat experience and that helps tailor their questions to what they have faced in the past. This is a great partnership because of the relationship we have with them and the pride they have in defending their country.”