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Morocco/US’s African Lion: ‘The largest US military exercise ever conducted on this continent’

By Achraf Tijani, Inès Daif, Stéphane Kenech
Posted on Friday, 11 June 2021 12:55

African Lion, a joint military exercise between the US military and several African countries, will take place from 7 to 18 June in Morocco. DR

Morocco and the US launched a series of joint military exercises near the Sahara on 7 June. Touted as the largest US military exercise conducted on Africa, they are due to wrap-up on 18 June.

“The largest US military exercise ever conducted on this continent.” This is how US Major General Andrew Rohling described the 2021 edition of the African Lion military exercise, which will be conducted in conjunction with Morocco on its territory between 7 and 18 June, during the launch ceremony in Agadir.

After entering the military base, one then has to walk along yellow-tinted barracks, an airstrip and through a corridor bedecked with the flags of the 10 partner countries, which frame the entrance to the U-shaped green tents.

Two generals, one Moroccan and one American, discussed the challenges of this 17th edition, in front of the portrait of King Mohammed VI. “This exercise has undoubtedly reached a degree of maturity that attests to the strength of cooperative relations between our respective armies,” said General Belkhir El Farouk, commander of the Southern Zone.

Taking place in Polisario-controlled areas?

Referring to the “evolution of world geopolitics”, the officer of the Royal Armed Forces (RAF) insists on the need for “more multinational” military action to face “hybrid threats using multifaceted modes of action.” An air training exercise involving Moroccan and US “bombers, fighters and aerial refuelling aircraft” will take place, as well as naval manoeuvres, including a joint “naval firing exercise” between the two countries’ navies, according to Africom (US Africa Command).

But beyond these tactical considerations, the aim of the exercise this year is open to various interpretations, especially given the fact that the US officially recognised Morocco’s claims over Western Sahara just a few months previously. Therefore, there is the lingering question of whether these exercises will take place in Polisario-controlled areas of Morocco.

For two weeks, more than 7,000 soldiers from the participating countries will gather to carry out joint exercises in “Agadir, Tifnit, Tan-Tan, Mahbès, Tafraoute, Ben Guerir and Kenitra,” US Colonel Ryan Dillon told us. Mahbès is the only place mentioned in this list that is located on the former Spanish colony’s territory.