U.S. Africa Command’s premier joint annual military exercise also known as ‘African Lion‘ wrapped up its 17th iteration in Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal on June 18 with encouraging signs.
Military leaders from the U.S., Africa, Europe and NATO partners attended the closing ceremony in Tan Tan, Morocco, one of the exercise training locations.
Maj. General Andrew M. Rohling, commander, Southern European Task Force Africa, described the 2021 African Lion as “the largest and most complex” to date.
Thanking Moroccan, Senegalese and Tunisian partners for hosting African Lion in their respective countries, Maj. General Rohling said close to 8,000 personnel from eight different countries participated in the exercise, and another fifteen countries observed the training with the potential to join for African Lion 22.
“African Lion 2021 employed a wide array of mission capabilities in order to strengthen interoperability between partner nations and enhance the aptitude to conduct in-theater operations,” said Rohling’s Moroccan counterpart, Southern Zone Commander Lt. Gen. Belkhir El Farouk.
The Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Mission in Morocco, David Greene, who also attended the closing ceremony of the African Lion 21 described the exercise as “a critical component of the close, strategic partnership between Morocco and the United States.”
At a press briefing on Tuesday, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) Deputy Commander for Civil-Military Engagement Ambassador Andrew Young said AFRICOM plays a valuable role in promoting stability and security throughout Africa and that it is also an important objective of the United States.
“U.S. AFRICOM is focused on getting after advancing a core element, which is that the prosperity on the African continent is a U.S. national security objective. And how do we do that? We work by, with, and through our African and regional and international partners,” said Ambassador Young.
Throughout much of Africa, especially the Sahel, the prevalence of Islamic extremism and insurgent groups such as Boko Haram have resulted in countless deaths, abductions, and displacements.
According to Amnesty International, Boko Haram killed hundreds of civilians over the past year in Nigeria alone and carried out abductions targeting women and girls. In many cases, civilians have been indiscriminately detained or even killed as part of the ongoing conflict between security forces and insurgents.
Through AFRICOM, the United States military provides exercises and training opportunities to better equip African regional forces in their counterterrorism efforts.
Ambassador Young explained Tuesday that the United States’ relationship with the continent of Africa is multifaceted, saying, “As we engage on African partnership and strategy, we do so through the diplomatic lens, we do so through the defense lens, and we also do so through the developmental lens.”
While terrorist groups in the Sahel pose a direct threat to regional stability and to the lives of countless civilians, many feel that the ongoing security threat requires a complex and well-rounded solution.
A geographic region facing widespread economic instability and immense poverty, many feel that combatting the terrorist threat in Africa requires a militaristic solution but also a diplomatic and political one.
In impoverished communities where there are few viable economic options, many young people resort to joining these insurgent groups out of desperation.
“We know that in the Sahel right now… it’s probably the globe’s fastest growing population of internally displaced people because of much of the violence and instability that’s happening there, and we absolutely want to help address that as we see those as drivers towards recruiting for the violent extremist organizations as they look at that large youth population that may not see that they have any options,” said Lieutenant General Kirk Smith, Deputy Commander of AFRICOM.