Military members from the United States and Morocco met at the end of January to finalize plans for the annual Exercise “African Lion.” The exercise will resume in 2021 after being severely curtailed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

U.S. troops and their Moroccan hosts were scouting the locations where most of the exercise will take place. The 17th iteration of African Lion 2021 will involve over 10,000 troops from nine countries. It will span three continents and six countries. 

The annual exercise is designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation’s tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). The exercise began in the 1990s as a biennial event. It was sponsored by the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and conducted by U.S. Army personnel in cooperation with the Moroccan Armed Forces. It then turned into an annual event, after President Bush established the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008 which took over the stewardship of African Lion.

However, African Lion exercises in Morocco, Tunisia, and Senegal in 2020, which were supposed to involve 9,300 troops from eight nations, were thrown into chaos by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, stated on March 10, 2020, that “African Lion has been significantly reduced in scale and scope based on concerns that we all have about the safety of our troops and those of our partners.” 

In talks of November of last year between the U.S. and Morocco, it was stated that the annual 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.”

Morocco Operation African Lion 2021
Maj. Gen. Andrew M. Rohling, the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force commanding general and U.S. Army Europe-Africa deputy commanding general, greets Gen. Belkhir El Farouk, the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces Southern Zone commander, during Rohling’s visit to the Royal Morocco Southern Forces Zone headquarters in Agadir, Morocco, Nov. 12, 2020. The leaders met to discuss plans for the African Lion 21 Exercise, COVID-19 challenges on military readiness, and regional security issues. (Courtesy photo by Royal Moroccan Armed Forces)

Many of the American troops will come from the U.S. Southern European Task Force, Africa (SEATF-Africa), commanded by MG Andrew Rohling.

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“SETAF-Africa provides AFRICOM a dedicated and ready joint task force capability,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Jackson, the Army Reserve Component Integration Advisor, United States Army Southern European Task Force. “We are going to stress and test that capability in African Lion 21.”

“What we do in Africa matters,” Jackson said. “Not only are we building tactical unit readiness by deploying forces thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, and rehearsing sophisticated joint, all-domain operations, we are also improving on the strong foundations of friendship between Morocco and the U.S. with an ever-increasing coalition of partners and Allies.”

According to the Army’s SEATF’s website, “The exercise scenario pits this multinational coalition against a state-sponsored and supported paramilitary force with near-peer capabilities. Linked to U.S. European Command’s Defender series exercise, the African Lion exercise is designed to counter malign activity in North Africa and Southern Europe and increase interoperability between U.S., African, and international partners to defend the theater from adversary military aggression.

“We face a number of shared challenges, [but the U.S. and Morocco] will continue to capitalize on our already very strong relationship to meet these challenges,” said MG Rohling last November.

“We clearly understand the importance of protecting our forces — American, Moroccan, and others who should participate — against the pandemic,” General Rohling added.