U.S.-Morocco crisis: Exercise canceled over W. Sahara

U.S.-Morocco crisis: Exercise canceled over W. Sahara

Morocco and the United States have been plunged into a crisis that led to the cancellation of a major military exercise.

Diplomats said Rabat and Washington underwent a sharp decline in diplomatic and military relations when the United States supported a Security Council effort to expand the authority of a UN force in the
disputed Western Sahara.

They said the decision by President Barack Obama sparked a Moroccan decision to cancel African Lion-2013, deemed a major exercise in North Africa.

“This was seen as a harsh blow by Washington, and it threatens relations with Morocco,” a diplomat in the region said.

The diplomats said the U.S. initiative marked the latest in a series of moves by the Obama administration that angered Rabat. They cited statements by the administration over the last few years that sought to undermine Morocco’s control of Western Sahara, 80 percent of which is under Rabat’s rule.

Morocco canceled African Lion on April 16, a day before the start of the exercise. Officials said the U.S. military sent 1,400 personnel for the exercise, also meant to include observers from France and Germany.

Officials said the U.S. military has begun to withdraw troops and equipment from Morocco, including aircraft, artillery and combat vehicles. They said Morocco has not offered to reschedule African Lion.

Morocco’s cancellation of African Lion took place hours after Rabat condemned a U.S. proposal to expand the mission of the UN observer mission in Western Sahara, known as MINURSO. The U.S. proposal would enable MINURSO, with 210 personnel, to monitor human rights by Morocco in Western Sahara.

“It is an attack on the national sovereignty of Morocco and will have negative consequences on the stability of the whole region,” Moroccan government spokesman Mustapha Khalfi said. “We count on the wisdom of the members of the Security Council to avoid such initiatives.”

Diplomats said the U.S. initiative, expected to be discussed in the Security Council in late April, could harm Morocco’s relations with Washington over the medium term. They said the kingdom was expected to reduce its support for U.S. initiatives in the region, particularly in neighboring Libya.

“It is safe to say that Morocco will reconsider diplomatic relations, including support for Washington in the United Nations,” the diplomat said.

Source: WorldTribune News - 19 April 2013

Photo: The Moroccan Air Force F-5F Tiger II African Lion-2010, major exercise in North Africa. A Moroccan F-5F refuels from a KC-130 provided by U.S. Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 234, here, May 8. The C-130, navigated by Staff Sgt. Brett Trahan, VMGR-234, is participating in AFRICAN LION 2010. Trahan, who has spent 15 years in the U.S. Marine Active Reserves, has served as the lead planner for the aviation portion of AFRICAN LION for the past four years. AFRICAN LION 2010 is an annually scheduled, joint, combined U.S.-Moroccan exercise. It brings together nearly 1,000 U.S. service members from 16 locations throughout Europe and North America with more than 1,000 members of the Moroccan military, and is the largest exercise in U.S. Africa Command's area of action. AFRICAN LION, which is coordinated by U.S. Marine Forces Africa, is designed to promote interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation’s military tactics, techniques and procedures. The exercise is scheduled to end on or around June 9. All U.S. forces will return to their home bases in the United States and Europe at the conclusion of the exercise. (Photo by U.S. Marine Sgt. Lydia M. Davey)



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