US reasserts presence in Africa with preparations for exercise African Lion 21
The US appears to be reasserting its presence in Africa as plans for exercise African Lion 21 in June get underway, according to GlobalData.
The Commanding General of US Army Europe and Africa, General Christopher Cavoli, and Deputy Commanding General, Major General Andrew Rohling, flew to Tunisia at the end of February to discuss preparations for the multinational military exercise due to take place in June.
"This marks the first official US delegation to North Africa under the Biden administration and indicates a possible reaffirmation of the US’s presence in Africa,” comments Victoria Bosomworth, associate aerospace and defence analyst at GlobalData. “The US’s role in Africa has been somewhat diminished over the last few years, including the withdrawal of troops from Somalia in December 2020 under the Trump administration.
“Other moves that reduced the presence of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) on the continent included potential budget cuts and the planned relocation of AFRICOM’s headquarters, as well as the merger of US Army Europe and US Army Africa into USAREUR-AF. The US’s policy outlook during this time sought to prioritise the reliance of NATO and European allies on the continent, rather than commit to direct US involvement.”
The 17th iteration of exercise African Lion will take place in June 2021 with participation from around 5000 troops from the US and from a number of African nations, including Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal. Aiming to increasing operational readiness, interoperability between troops and strengthening military relations between the states, the exercise will see active participation of nine nations as well as the involvement of several observer states.
“Despite efforts by NATO and other European forces to quell insurgencies in places like Mali and continued counterterrorism operations in Somalia, slow progress has been made in attempting to contain such threats and stabilise these countries due to a number of complex factors,” Bosomworth continues.
“As a result, Al-Shabab still maintains a significant presence in the Horn of Africa region, with IS and Al-Qaeda affiliated groups operating from the Sahel to various parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Some studies citing the increased death toll as a result of terrorist attacks over the past few years have suggested the prevalence of African jihadist activity has substantially escalated.
“There has arguably been a shift in terms of the ‘centre of gravity’ for these organisations from the Middle East to Africa. Although an unwillingness by the US to commit to boots on the ground may remain in place despite the leadership transition, this gravitational shift may prompt greater engagement with the continent from the new government in other supporting areas. While the Biden Administration’s strategic stance on Africa appears yet to be formally decided, Biden’s focus on renewing strategic partnerships on the continent is an encouraging sign.
“The US’s possible re-engagement with Africa also comes at a time where other great powers, such as Russia and China, are growing their footprint in many African countries, expanding both economically and militarily. Russia, in particular, has begun to expand is military involvement throughout the continent after declaring its intent to establish a naval base in Sudan last year. This was underscored by an AFRICOM statement in 2020 which pointed to Russia’s increasingly active participation in the Libyan conflict.
“The US’s possible strengthening of ties between surrounding countries such as Tunisia and Morocco, through this year’s African Lion exercise, may thus not only aid in counterbalancing Russian influence on the continent but also assist in attempts to contain the growing jihadi threat in Africa.”
For more defence industry comment and analysis, visit GlobalData’s Aerospace, Defense & Security Intelligence Centre.
// Image: Planners for exercise African Lion 21 survey a weapons range during a visit to Morocco in January 2021. Credit: US Africa Command