[Defense Post has just featured an article denying that the U.S.-led African Lion war games will occur in any part of the Western Sahara, attributing the denial to U.S. Africa Command. The article also said that a statement to the opposite effect posted by Morocco’s Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani has been deleted from his Twitter page. However, the fact that the Pentagon is holding a 10,000-troop military exercise across Morocco after the resumption of hostilities between the government and the Western Sahara is still a cause for major concern.]
Western Sahara: U.S., NATO allies train for new war
The annual U.S.-led multinational African Lion military exercise will be held from June 7-18. Conducted under U.S. Africa Command auspices and run by U.S. Army Africa (alternately Southern European Task Force), components of the war games will be held in Morocco (the traditional base of operations for the exercise), Tunisia, Ghana and Senegal.
African Lion 21 will include at least 10,000 military personnel from nine nations: The U.S. (which in the past has supplied the bulk of the forces), Britain, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Brazil, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal. Five of the nine are NATO members and two, Morocco and Tunisia, are members of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue partnership. (If the above is an indication, NATO may be grooming Brazil to follow Colombia into its Partners Across the Globe military partnership.)
This year’s iteration in unique in that it is the first held since the Donald Trump administration recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the former Spanish possession of Western Sahara and the recent cessation of a thirty-year truce between the Polisario Front which governs it and Morocco which intends to subjugate it. In fact the Moroccan government has announced that for the first time this year’s African Lion war games are to be held in parts of Western Sahara.
That development is not only a brazen provocation towards the government and people of Western Sahara but is also tantamount to an endorsement by the U.S. and its NATO allies of Morocco’s plans to military subdue the territory.
On June 1 Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine Othmani said that “Part of the exercise will take place for the first time in the Moroccan Sahara [Rabat’s designation for Western Sahara] in the Mahbas region and near Dakhla, the region’s largest city.” He affirmed that the inclusion of Western Saharan territory in the annual U.S.-commanded military exercise was the formal culmination of Washington’s resolve to back Morocco’s seizure of the territory, its first invasion of it in 1975 having led to a 16-year war. One which appears to have been resumed with the abandonment of the 1991 truce last year.
All indications are that Western Sahara will join the ranks of other de facto NATO low-intensity conflicts like those in Mali, Syria, Northern Iraq, the Donbass in Ukraine, the South Caucasus, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.
The Arab Weekly reported that security studies strategist Mohamed el-Tayyar characterized the decision to expand the exercise into “the Mahbas area, close to the Algerian border, as well as in the city of Dakhla at the far end of the Western Sahara, [as] a clear indication that the United States will stand by Morocco in its struggle with the opponents of its territorial integrity.” That is, Washington and its allies will not only support but actively assist war against Western Sahara.
The publication quoted the analyst (evidently pro-Moroccan) asserting: “It comes in special political circumstances represented by the American recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over its Sahara, and it also constitutes an exceptional turning point in the field of security and military cooperation between the United States and Morocco.”
He also admonished Algeria (the Polisario Front’s main supporter over the past 45 years), Spain (which objects to Morocco’s attempt to conquer it a second time) and Germany to take due note of the strategic military partnership between Morocco and the U.S.
Major General Andrew Rohling, Deputy Commanding General for Africa and US Army Southern European Task Force-Africa Commander, celebrated African Lion 21 as “a great opportunity to strengthen one of the oldest strategic relationships of the United States”: Morocco.
The U.S. also conducted an eleven-day maritime exercise, Phoenix Express 2021, off the waters of North Africa last month. The other participating nations were NATO allies Belgium, France, Greece, Italy and Spain, NATO Mediterranean Dialogue members Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, and Libya, which was touted as a future NATO partner immediately after NATO’s six-month air war against the nation a decade ago, and Malta, a member of the Partnership for Peace.
Morocco and Mauritania, which jointly invaded Western Sahara after Spain left it in 1975, as well as Algeria account for Western Sahara’s land borders. Libya is the only North African nation not to join the Mediterranean Dialogue, and though it had formerly provided ships for NATO exercises in the Mediterranean, paid the cost for that abstention. It is to be feared that Western Sahara is facing the same fate as Libya ten years earlier.