Military leaders from Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia and the United States decided to size and scope of the annual African Lion multinational exercise this year to reduce the exposure of U.S. and partner forces to novel coronavirus (COVID-19), U.S. Africa Command said on Tuesday, March 10.
Nearly 5,000 personnel from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Mauritania, Morocco, the Netherlands, Portugal, Senegal, Spain, Tunisia, the United Kingdom and the United States were scheduled to take part in the exercise held across Morocco, Senegal, Spain and Tunisia from March 23 to April 3.
“The safety and protection of all of our forces – U.S. and partner nation – is a priority. Modifying the exercise still improves readiness while minimizing risk to protect both U.S. and partner forces,” said U.S. Africa Command commander General Stephen J. Townsend. “While the scope of the exercise will adjust, our commitment to our African partners endures.”
African Lion will now only include portions of the drills that do not require lodging troops in close quarters, AFRICOM said. An academic portion of the exercise that has already begun will still be included.
As of March 9, there were 589 confirmed cases in Spain, four in Senegal, and two in both Morocco and Tunisia, according to World Health Organization data.
Exercise African Lion enhances the interoperability of the U.S., partner nations and regional organizations in order to contain regional instability, conduct peace operations, counter violent extremist organizations, maintain cross-border security and counter transnational threats, according to AFRICOM.
The scope of the exercise provides an opportunity for all participating units and nations to enhance readiness by performing their mission essential functions.
Last week the U.S. and Israel cancelled their annual Juniper Cobra exercise as a precautionary measure to reduce exposure to COVID-19. The drill would have involved involved 2,500 EUCOM soldiers, and 1,000 Israeli troops, according to the Israel Defence Forces.
Multinational NATO exercises are still set to continue despite the coronavirus threat, including Defender-Europe 20, which will see 20,000 troops deployed from the United States to Europe, where the virus has spread from Italy in recent days and forced the closure of schools, museums and cancellation of large public gatherings. Last week, the U.S. and South Korean militaries postponed forthcoming joint exercises due to coronavirus.