April 14, 2014, AGADIR, Morocco – In the current global-security environment, one nation isn’t enough. After decades of overseas contingency operations, from the sands of Afghanistan to the jungles of Mali, coalitions are a clear indicator of partner nations’ commitment to worldwide stability and security.
Exercise African Lion is U.S. Africa Command’s flagship program in Northern Africa to build partner-nation capacity and interoperability. With more regional cooperation between North African nations, bringing more partners into the mix would increase expertise, capabilities and professionalism across the board.
“We are very keen to work together with [Moroccans]; they are great partners for us and we want to practice and exercise with them as much as possible,” said Italian Commander Fernando Cianci, STRIKFORNATO.
This year’s multilateral event wasn’t exclusively between the Kingdom of Morocco and the United States; the three-week event hosted Geo-spatial intelligence professionals from the German Bundeswehr Geo-spatial Intelligence Office as well as members of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, with representatives from the U.S., Portugal, Poland and Italy.
STRIKFORNATO is NATO’s premiere Maritime Battlestaff. One of their primary functions is to serve as a link for integrating U.S. Maritime Forces into NATO operations. The rapidly-deployable, maritime headquarters operates under a Memorandum of Understanding, signed between 11 nations, that “provides scalable command-and-control across a full spectrum of alliance fundamental security tasks,” according to its official webpage.
“It’s important because we have long-time friendships with these countries and we want to build a way to work together better,” said Cianci.
“When you work or exercise with other countries, you have to share; share the knowledge to do the jobs; we are showing them our ways to do jobs and they will show us their way and we find a good compromise for both of us to achieve the mission.”
The U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa-led engagement is one of the biggest of its kind on the continent and, during African Lion 14, hosted a multilateral event that included military observers from Mauritania, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Senegal, Poland, Turkey, Italy and France.
“It’s great training for the Marines and the Moroccans, but now we’d like to bring in some more participation and this was the first year we’ve had that opportunity with the Observer Program,” said Marine Brig. Gen. James S. O’Meara, deputy commander of Marine Forces Europe and Africa.
The African Lion 14 Observer Program was built to showcase the exercise to potential participants, setting the foundation for more robust military engagements in future iterations.
“So far it’s been very good, very positive,” said O’Meara. “It brings more of a coalition approach to help AFRICOM and Morocco, being a key player in Africa, this is a great exercise to do that.”
“Bringing in more of our partners from Africa and Europe will bring in different expertise, interoperability; it will help us work together in the future by helping different partners learn from each other. The more ‘multilateral’ we can make the exercise, the more we can each gain from it and, in the future when we need to come together for contingencies and crises.”
The observer program included an introduction about past iterations of African Lion exercises, the simulated scenarios, site visits to the Moroccan military and civilian ports, and a demonstration of stability operations by a contingent of military police officers from U.S. Marine, Army and Air Force personnel along with their counterparts. The Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response rapid-response capability was demonstrated with flight of two MV-22B Ospreys from Moron, Spain, directly to the northwest coast of Africa.
“It’s very important from a naval perspective; we say that no one can police the seas by themselves, so we have to do it together,” said Senegalese Commander Baye Khoule, an observer of African Lion 14. “For [the Economic Community of West African States], we have 15 countries and have sent troops for UN mandated operations – we can have the world to do that. Working with our partners will help us a lot to accomplish those missions.”
Regional partners working together in an exercise the magnitude of African Lion will provide familiarity when the time comes for real-world contingencies.
“If you work together, train together, you start to think more alike, and our equipment works well together, all of that will make the transition for a coalition a little easier from an ice-cold start of never working together,” said O’Meara.
The 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade operated its capacity to integrate with partner-nation militaries and respond to contingencies if it were deployed to support contingencies with a scalable, joint task force of Marines and fellow U.S. service components.
“In a crisis, the first time you’re planning it, you don’t want the people you’re working with to be the first time you’ve ever seen them. This year, having the 2nd MEB and SP-MAGTF Crisis Response here, all that has added to the benefit of the exercise,” said O’Meara.
Next year’s scheduled iteration, African Lion 15, has already been slated as a more profound training engagement, with more servicemembers from more nations, robust live-fire engagements, and aerial tactics and training workshops with support from an international contingent of fighter-jet squadrons.
“If not for any other reason, to at least share the same concerns on a global perspective and try to find common solutions for common problems, there’s no better way with dealing with a problem or situation than knowing your partner, knowing where they’re strong, where they’re weak, so challenges can be easily overcome,” said Portuguese Navy Commander Manual A. Mota, STRIKFORNATO.
The engagement hopes to build more proficiency and maintain the partnerships it’s been built, progressing every year to work toward international integration of armed services sharing knowledge, tactics and procedures, especially those partners in the region.
“Any multinational coalition has this virtue, of bringing different ideas, different ways of doing the same business and bringing things into context and hopefully we, together, find the optimized solution for similar problems that each one individually would have to deal with.”
African Lion 14 concluded its ninth iteration April 5. The exercise hopes to bolster more robust participation to promote stability and security of the region by working with long-time partners and strategic friendships.