United States – Africa: regional threats on the menu at African Lion 2022

Lhe largest joint military exercise on the continent was held from June 20 to 30, in Morocco in a particular geopolitical context. The United States and its allies will have to confront the rise of violent extremist groups and the arrival of Russian mercenaries in the Sahel, warned the head of the American command for Africa (Africom), as instability increases In the region. “We are seeing a rise in violent extremism in West Africa, especially in the Sahel region,” General Stephen Townsend told AFP Thursday at the end of the international military exercise “African Lion” co- organized by Morocco, host country since 2004.

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Jihadist thrust and Wagner

The Sahel region is a vast territory stretching south from the Sahara desert in Africa, with countries such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Jihadists have recently extended their reach into the Sahel and marked their presence with an unprecedented series of massacres of civilians. Mali was particularly affected.

“We are also seeing the arrival of malevolent actors and I am thinking specifically of Wagner’s Russian mercenaries who are in Mali,” noted the senior American officer in Cap Drâa, in the southern Moroccan desert near the town of Tan-Tan. . Westerners accuse the military junta in power in Bamako of using the services of this private Russian military company, close to the Kremlin, which they accuse of “crimes”.

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New countries

Africom, which is based in the German city of Stuttgart, is responsible for US military operations across Africa. From June 6 to 30, more than 7,500 soldiers from a dozen nations, including Senegal, Chad, Brazil, Italy, France and the United Kingdom participated in the exercise “African Lion 2022 on Moroccan soil. Attended by military observers from NATO, the African Union (AU) and nearly thirty “partner countries”, including, for the first time, Israel.

“African Lion”, the largest annual joint exercises on the African continent, took place mainly in Morocco but also in Tunisia, Senegal and Ghana. The first objective of the exercise is to “improve our level of readiness, the skills of the participating armies and to strengthen our partnerships”, specified General Townsend.

It consists of land, airborne, airborne, maritime, CBRN (nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical) decontamination maneuvers and medical and humanitarian assistance. On Thursday, Royal Moroccan Armed Forces F-16s, Apache gunships, M1 Abrams tanks and AMX-10 RCs in a mixed armor group, supported by two Himars rocket launcher systems, simulated a joint air and ground attack against enemy columns and positions at Cape Draa.

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A tense regional context

A battle fought in the middle of thick clouds of sand raised by the impact of live ammunition and a violent wind from the Atlantic. While this training was not specifically scripted to deal with the jihadist threat or Wagner’s entrenchment in Africa, “it will help all of our armed forces if we are called upon to combat these kinds of issues in the future,” he said. said the head of Africom. On the other hand, at a time when tensions are high between Rabat and Algiers, General Townsend assured that the “African Lion” exercise was “not aimed at all” at neighboring Algeria. The latter severed diplomatic relations with Morocco in August 2021 due to deep disagreements over the disputed territory of Western Sahara and the security rapprochement between Rabat and Israel.

“African Lion” is “not directed against a particular country”, affirmed the commander-in-chief of Africom, “it is about increasing our interoperability to face the challenges that we face”. “What is at stake in NATO and in Ukraine today demonstrates the value of strong allies and partners working together to advance our common interest. During the NATO summit this week in Madrid, US President Joe Biden announced an increased presence of US military and capabilities in Europe, including on its “southern flank”, in Spain and Italy, opposite North Africa.

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