US general says ‘terrorist forest fire’ is marching across Africa
TAN-TAN, Morocco – A senior US general warned on Friday that the “forest fire of terrorism” was sweeping a swath of Africa and requiring the world’s attention. He spoke at the end of the large-scale war games led by the United States with American, African and European troops.
The African Lion War Games, which lasted nearly two weeks, spread across Morocco, a key US ally, with smaller games being held in Tunisia and Senegal. Annual exercises were skipped last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
General Stephen J. Townsend, head of the US Africa Command, praised the work being done in the joint operations and painted a grim picture of the threats besetting parts of Africa.
“I am concerned about the security situation in a strip of Africa,” from the Sahel region in the west to the Horn of Africa, Townsend told reporters. He noted deadly attacks by jihadists linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State and al-Shabab. “They are all on the move,” he said.
African neighbors are helping governments deal with the threat, but, he added, “all of this does not seem enough to stop what I call … (the) terrorist forest fire sweeping this region” .
The African Lion has seen more than 7,000 troops from seven countries and NATO jointly conduct air, land and sea exercises.
“This has contributed to our interoperability, to our joint capabilities and has provided preparation and a good opportunity to strengthen cohesion between the forces,” said Major General Andrew Rohling, Commander of Task Force South Africa of the US Army. He spoke on Friday in the desert town of Tan-Tan.
There was a hitch early on, with Spain pulling out of the war games for budgetary reasons. Press reports attributed the move to Spain’s poor relations with Morocco, a former key partner.
The two countries have been at loggerheads since Spain recruited the leader of the Polisario Front independence movement – Morocco’s number one enemy – for COVID-19 treatment at a Spanish hospital earlier this year. The Polisario is fighting for the independence of Western Sahara, a vast region that Morocco claims as its own.
During the exercise, Morocco conducted airborne operations near Western Sahara and not far from the Polisario refugee camps in Tindouf, neighboring Algeria.
“These activities were perfectly carried out and agreed between the two armies,” Moroccan Brigadier General Mohammed Jamil told The Associated Press.
Townsend, asked if any action has spilled over into the disputed Western Sahara, was adamant: “I can confirm that is not the case. “
The countries participating in the African Lion were the United States, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Italy, the Netherlands and Great Britain. Observers from countries such as Egypt, Qatar, Niger and Mali were also present.