The United States and Morocco yesterday resumed their annual African Lion military exercise, but on a much smaller scale following its earlier cancellation due to a spat over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
US embassy spokesman Rodney Ford told Agence France Presse that the Moroccan government had asked the United States to resume African Lion. “Most of our forces had already redeployed. But some elements are still on the ground. So we are conducting modified limited military engagements,” he said yesterday.
Some of the activities taking place as part of African Lion include aerial refuelling, aerial training and various workshops.
African Lion was originally scheduled to begin on April 17 and conclude on April 27, but was cancelled on the 16th because of Moroccan anger with the Obama administration over its support for having the United Nations monitor human rights in a territorial dispute over the territory of Western Sahara.
“The Moroccan government has deferred the exercise to a later date,” said Tom Saunders, an Africom spokesman, in a statement last week. “The US and Moroccan militaries remain long-standing partners. We hope to continue to build our partnership through future military engagements with the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces, as directed by US Africa Command and the United States Government.”
This week the US dropped its demand that rights monitoring be included in the mandate of the UN mission in the Western Sahara, with the resolution merely to encourage stronger efforts on human rights, AFP said.
Morocco occupied the desert region in 1976 unleashing a decades-long guerrilla struggle by the indigenous Polisario Front group, which ended with a UN ceasefire agreement in 1991. Since then talks between the two sides have remained stalemated, with Polisario insisting on an independence referendum and Morocco proposing autonomy for the mineral-rich former Spanish colony.
African Lion 2013 was set to involve 1 400 US personnel, 900 Moroccan troops and foreign observers. Earlier this month, the US Military Sealift Command’s USNS Dahl, a cargo transport vessel, pulled into a Moroccan port to deliver more than 250 short tons of equipment for the exercise. Marines disembarked everything from 7-ton trucks, Humvees and howitzers to Meals, Ready to Eat. Much of that equipment was reloaded and redeployed.
African Lion usually involves live-fire and manoeuvring exercises, amphibious operations and aerial refuelling and low-level flight training.
Pic: An M1 Abrams firing during African Lion 2011.