US, Morocco armies stage drills near Western Sahara, Algeria
By Fatima Zohra Bouaziz
Mahbes, Morocco, Jun 22 (EFE).- The Moroccan and United States have staged joint military drills in the southeastern Greir Labouihi training zone near Western Sahara and Algeria.
Land drills were launched in the deserted region on Tuesday and included training with the American High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars) and Moroccan-owned M109 howitzers.
It was the first ground drills as part of the 18th edition of the African Lion training program, which is organized by the US Military with the participation of 13 allied nations.
In suffocating temperatures and from the safety of a tent nearly 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the action, observers and reporters watched as two artillery systems fired bursts of three rounds intermittently, starting with the highly mobile US-made Moroccan howitzers, which have a range of 18 kilometers.
They were followed by the Himars, a system with a range of 80 kilometers, and one of the launchers that Washington has pledged to send to Ukraine. The Himars launch system is mounted on a truck that allows soldiers to quickly move positions.
“The large open area, the ability to conduct live fires, the ability to conduct parachute training, the possibility to conduct desert training, so for the United States Army this is a great opportunity to train in an environment we’re not completely familiar with and with experts in this environment, that being the Moroccans,” Andrew Rohling, US Army Southern European Task Force, Africa commander, told reporters.
Tuesday’s training drills were held in the region of Greir Labouihi area of southeasternmost Morocco, just 35 kilometers north of the border with Western Sahara, 55 kilometers west of the Algerian frontier and 105 kilometers west of Tindouf, the Algerian base of the Polisario Front, a Sarwahi independence group opposed to Morocco’s claims over Western Sahara.
The drills were held amid simmering tension in the region.
Algeria severed diplomatic relations with its neighbor in August 2021 and closed its airspace to Moroccan aircraft, a move that added fuel to an arms race between the North African countries.
Algeria’s army held nighttime training drills with live fire near Tindouf on June 7.
The African Lion exercises are also taking place in the context of renewed hostilities between Morocco and the Polisario Front after Brahim Ghali, the president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic government in exile, declared the end of a three-decade ceasefire in November 2020.
Since then, sporadic clashes between Moroccan troops and Polisario militants have broken out along the berm that straddles the territory from north to south.
Some 7,500 Moroccan, US and allied soldiers are taking part in the African Lion drills, which includes Nato observers.
They are due to continue until June 30, moving around the country from Kentira, to Tan Tan, Agadir and Cap Draa. EFE