US Africa command said the scale back is designed to “minimize exposure” to the virus for military personnel.
Rabat – The Pentagon released a statement yesterday to announce the scale back of the African Lion Exercise, due to kick off March 23. The decision to pare down the operation comes amid the global spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
African Lion is an annual Morocco-US joint military training exercise based in Morocco, with the participation of partners including Senegal and Tunisia.
Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia, and the US agreed to “modify the size and scope of African Lion to minimize exposure of US and partner nation service members to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19),” said the statement from US Africa Command (Africom).
“The safety and protection of all of our forces, US and partner nation, is a priority,” Africom chief General Stephen Townsend emphasized in the statement.
“Modifying the exercise still improves readiness while minimizing risk to protect both US and partner forces. While the scope of the exercise will adjust, our commitment to our African partners endures,” the General added.
All academic training sessions will go ahead in the scaled-down version of the exercise, as will parts of the operation that do not include shared accommodation or large gatherings of troops in close quarters.
Spokesperson for the US Ministry of Defense Jonathon Hoffman told the press on Tuesday, March 10, the decision came after an in-depth review of the COVID-19 epidemic at an international level.
“It was a decision that was made by the combatant commander, in conjunction with the host countries,” he said.
“Part of it is, we’ve got to look at how are people getting there. Are they traveling en masse? Are they traveling commercially? Where are they transiting through? Where are they going to go afterward? How long are they there for?” Hoffman argued.
“Is the value of a shorter exercise worth it if, on the back end, they may have a 14-day quarantine versus a longer exercise where the value may come out?” the spokesperson said, as quoted by US media outlet, the Hill.
The largest US training operation in Africa
The exercise is Africom’s largest training operation on the continent. The plans for the 2020 operation included 9,000 troops and 7,000 tons of military equipment.
Field training exercises for paratroopers, medical exercises, chemical and biological response exercises, and a humanitarian civic aid program all featured in the 2020 Africa Lion training goals.
The annual exercise aims to prepare the ground for interoperability between partner countries against terror networks and organizations threatening the region.
During the 2019 exercise, the two militaries used invisible laser-guided bombs, the GBU-24 Paveway III and GBU-12 Paveway II for the first time. Moroccan and US F-16 aircrafts also conducted surface attacks and large-scale operations.
Military units from Canada, Spain, the UK, Senegal, and Tunisia also took part in the exercise.
COVID-19 spreads in Africa
The decision to pare down the 2020 African Lion came on the same day Morocco announced the first death from COVID-19 in the country.
The 89-year-old patient already suffered from chronic illnesses, weakening her immune system. She contracted the virus in Italy before traveling back to Morocco. The Moroccan Ministry of Health said she received the “best of care.”
Morocco’s Health Ministry confirmed the country’s fifth case of COVID-19 today, bringing the total number of cases in the country to five.
The latest people to contract the virus are the wife and daughter of the French tourist who became the country’s third confirmed case on March 10.
As of today, there are 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Africa, with Egypt recording over half of the cases. Over 20 people have tested positive for the virus in Algeria, while South Africa has reported 7 cases.
Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Togo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all confirmed cases of the virus.