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Rabat – Senior military officials from the US and Morocco have begun preparing for the African Lion 2021 military exercise.
Morocco’s state media reported that Lieutenant General Belkhir El Farouk, Commander of the Southern Zone of Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces, met in Agadir on Thursday with Major General Andrew Rohling, Deputy Commander of the US Army in Africa.
The two military officials discussed preparations and conduct for next year’s African Lion, the largest military training exercise involving US troops on the continent.
The US military and Morocco’s FAR organize the African Lion exercises with partner countries to strengthen their capacity in combating violent extremist organizations, maintaining security and peace, and combating transnational threats.
A statement from the Southern European Task Force – Africa (SETAF) said the two officials agreed that the annual African Lion exercise “represents an opportunity to show the strong and continuous strategic partnership between the United States and Morocco, although both nations are facing COVID-19.”
The statement also quoted General Rohling as expressing appreciation for his Moroccan counterpart.
“It was a pleasure to meet General El Farouk in person for the first time,” said the US senior military official, noting the “caliber and character of General El Farouk and his understanding of the strategic environment.”
Last spring, Morocco planned to welcome 2,500 American soldiers from March 23 to April 3 for the military exercise. Training operations were also set to take place in Senegal, Tunisia, and Spain, and include a maritime exercise with naval fire and air exercises using F-16 and KC-135 aircraft.
However, the Pentagon announced on March 10 it would downsize the exercise due to the growing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling it entirely on March 16.
While the US and Morocco are moving forward with plans for June 2021, uncertainty still looms over African Lion given the ongoing crisis.
“We clearly understand the importance of protecting our forces — American, Moroccan, and others who should participate — against the pandemic,” General Rohling said on Thursday.
American and Moroccan military officials are preparing for African Lion 2021 “with this imperative in mind,” he assured.
During their meeting, Rohling and El Farouk discussed issues related to regional defense and security, as well as force preparation issues and challenges related to COVID-19.
“We face a number of shared challenges,” said General Rohling. Yet he remains confident that the US and Morocco “will continue to capitalize on our already very strong relationship to meet these challenges.”