One month ago, 7,500 African, American and European soldiers executed Morocco largest military exercise on the African continent so far. Tanks crossing desert sands for three weeks, sailors from 40 countries conducting simulated counter-terrorism operations, and the latest generation of HIMARS missile launchers, whose thrusters form a brownish cloud of dust. African Lion maneuvers. They are administered by the United States and have been home to Morocco for the past 18 years.
Now, the Pentagon has decided to find another host nation under pressure from Congress. The situation in Western Sahara is in the background.
General Stephen J. Townsend, commander of the United States Africa Command (US AFRICOM), confirmed that they are looking for a country other than Morocco to host most of the 2023 exercises. Reviewed by the state and this newspaper, Townsend explains the decision as part of the jurisdiction of the States Congress. “We will explore this, because we were asked: We are looking for volunteer countries to host African Lion maneuvers, all or parts and we will send teams to evaluate. We want to diversify the exercises,” he said.
Soldiers from the United States, Morocco, Ghana, Senegal, Tunisia, Chad, France, Italy, Brazil or the Netherlands join the African Lions each year. In the last two editions (when the volatile diplomatic crisis between Morocco and Algeria was in the canal), Spain refused to participate.
General Townsend did not explicitly mention the conflict over Western Sahara, but made it clear that the decision was imposed because “Congress passes a defense bill for fiscal year 2022 [vigente para 2023] requires it from us”. It will fit because “We believe in civilian control of the Armed Forces in the United States, and our civilian leaders and government told us to do that.”
Townsend refers to the ever-controversial elaboration of the norm that allows the Army to meet its enormous expenses each year. National Defense Authorization Act. In its handling, senators of different parties press for changes, for example, to ensure that the manufacture of a particular weapon is carried out in the constituency that elected them.
a senator this year. Aware of the Saharawi case He harshly blamed Morocco for the situation in Western Sahara and demanded a relocation.
For El Periódico de España, a newspaper affiliated with the same group called Prensa Ibérica, “Congress is putting pressure on Morocco to make concessions to start an honest negotiation on Western Sahara and Rabat,” comments the newspaper. Intissar FakirDirector of the North Africa and Sahel program at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “The decision will not sit well in Rabat. Although I think there’s been a bit of over-comment on what the move means: General Townsend has made it clear that they can start again in the future.
The senator in question is James Inhofe, the Republican leader of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He made a harsh accusation against Moroccan policies towards Western Sahara. According to the Washington Times, at one of the hearings he accused the Moroccan government of “perverted attacks” on Saharawi people in the region. “Morocco has done nothing in all these years to repair the damage it has done to the Saharawi people or show that they are serious about resolving the crisis,” he said in a speech in the Upper House.
The Oklahoma Republican affirms that Rabat has for decades misled all US administrations into believing in their faith. Willingness to negotiate with Saharawi Polisario Front (supported by Algeria). “So I pressed the Ministry of Defense to find an alternative location for the annual African Lion military exercises that Morocco has hosted so far,” he said.
Along with Democrat Patrick Leahy last year, Inhofe spearheaded a minor revolution in the Senate against Donald Trump’s drive to Western Sahara. 27 senators from both parties (13 Republicans and 14 Democrats out of a total of 100) sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to withdraw. The “wrong decision” made by Donald Trump. This decided to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. On the same day, the North African country announced that it had re-established diplomatic relations with Israel.
Senators asked Biden to renew his commitment to the United States’ pursuit of a referendum on self-determination for the Saharawi people. “Immediate decision by the previous administration (on 11 December 2020) to formally recognize Illegitimate claims to sovereignty of the Kingdom of Morocco The shortsightedness of Western Sahara has undermined decades of consistent US policy and alienated a significant number of African countries, the letter said.
The US AFRICOM commander went out of his way in anticipation that Washington would deal a diplomatic blow to one of its allies in the region. Praise to Morocco, home to the African Lions. “Morocco has a high military capacity, they have the infrastructure and training to carry out the maneuvers. It will be difficult to find a country in Africa that can come close to what Morocco has been able to do for 18 years.” told. “It will be difficult to find a country that will do this, and even more so in a year.”
General Stephen J. Townsend leaves The door is open for the African Lion to return in the future To the land of the Maghreb. I am confident that we will work with Morocco again on future African Lions.”