AFRICOM cancels North Africa multinational training exercise Phoenix Express over COVID-19 concerns

United States Africa Command cancelled this year’s run of Phoenix Express, a joint naval security exercise with African partners, as a precaution to limit the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

“After careful consideration with exercise participants and the host nation, Exercise Phoenix Express 2020 (OE20) has been cancelled for force protection considerations,” AFRICOM said in a press release on Tuesday, March 17.

This year’s Phoenix Express was scheduled for April 5-18 in the Mediterranean Sea.

The exercise is “designed to improve regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices, and operational capabilities” in order to promote security in the Mediterranean and along the coasts of participating nations.

Fourteen countries took part in last year’s drills, including North African forces from Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Countries took part in training simulations involving trafficking of drugs, weapons and people.

The Mediterranean is a gateway to Europe for smugglers. Several European nations including Italy, Greece, Spain, and the U.K. have participated in past Phoenix Express exercises, which began in 2005.

AFRICOM said planning for next year’s exercise is underway.

It’s the latest multinational military exercise cancelled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Saturday, AFRICOM announced the cancellation of exercise Obangame Express, a joint exercise to build West African militaries’ abilities to counter sea-based illicit activity.

Last week, Norway’s armed forces cancelled Exercise Cold Response that was planned to include 15,000 NATO and allied soldiers.

U.S. European Command has scaled back its showcase Exercise Defender-Europe 20 over coronavirus concerns, cutting linked exercises from what would have been the largest deployment of U.S.-based forces to Europe for an exercise in more than 25 years.

Other exercises have been cancelled in South Korea and Israel.

Here’s how the US military is preparing for COVID-19

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