At the request of the American Congress, worried about the evolution of the Western Sahara file, the United States Africa Command Africom should relocate its next military exercise from the African Lion.
While on June 10, United States Africa Command Africom proudly announced the debut of the African Lion 2022 in Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and Ghana, the military exercise could finally move away from the Cherifian kingdom. The announcement is also almost official: "We are looking for other places to organize, in part or entirely, the next military exercises of the African Lion", indeed explained General Townsend, a week ago now. .
The request would come, according to the general, from the American Congress. “We are doing this because Congress has asked us to move these exercises,” he told an online press conference. Referring in particular to budget cuts: the new Defense budget for the year 2022, adopted by Congress, requires that "we look into a diversification of military exercises and by diversification, it is a question of trying to move the exercises or certainly some elements of the exercises in other places on the continent,” Townsend explained.
A partnership conditioned in Western Sahara
Moreover, the American Finance Law clearly indicates that it wants to “limit support to the military forces of the Kingdom of Morocco for multilateral exercises”.
Morocco is however a historical partner of Africom: the African Lion was born in 2004. When concluding the 2022 exercise, General Townsend recalled the challenges of the military exercise, which is "the multinational and multidisciplinary operation largest and most diverse we have conducted in Africa, in conjunction with the Royal Armed Forces since 2004”.
But is the announcement of a departure from Morocco exclusively linked to budget issues? Not really. According to sources close to Africom, it was geopolitical interests that got the better of the agreement between Washington and Rabat. In particular the question of Western Sahara. The Congress considers that the Cherifian kingdom is not cooperative enough in this extremely sensitive file, especially since Donald Trump recognized, in December 2020, Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara.
For the Congress, Morocco is not totally excluded from military cooperation with Africom. The military exercises will be relocated, “unless the Secretary of Defense determines, after consultation with the Secretary of State, that the Kingdom of Morocco is endeavoring to find a politically acceptable mutual solution in Western Sahara”.
Can Biden override Congress' decision?
The words are thus posed: the all-powerful American Congress conditions the pursuit in Morocco of the African Lion to a change of attitude of Rabat in Western Sahara and calls for “peace”. Still, the US military can still overrule Congress' request. But in this case, it will be up to Joe Biden to perform a coup de force. The US president avoided overturning his predecessor's decision but wished to remain rather neutral on the subject.
Another important point: General Townsend will no longer be in charge of Africom in the coming weeks and will be replaced by General Michael Langley. Again, this can dramatically change the outlook for the African Lion.