The United States Army Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced on Monday that it had cancelled a US-led military training exercise called African Lion, scheduled to be held in Morocco, Tunisia, and Senegal from March 23 to April 4, as a precaution to limit the spread of COVID-19. The goal of the exercise, which would have involved 9,300 troops from eight countries, was to improve integration and military preparedness to combat trans-regional threats such as al-Qaida and Boko Haram.
Last week, General Stephen J. Townsend, the AFRICOM commander, told Voice of America and The Wall Street Journal that he had decided to scale back the size and scope of the exercise but to continue some training exercises that required less direct interaction, as large battalions would have been housed in close quarters, heightening the potential for infection and spread.
Why It Matters
African Lion is not the only military exercise to have been called off in an effort to halt the spread of COVID-19. Norway canceled an Arctic mission named Cold Response as part of efforts to slow the spread of the disease. Shortly after the news about African Lion, AFRICOM announced the cancellation of a joint naval security exercise in the Mediterranean Sea named Phoenix Express. These decisions are sensible in the short term to limit the spread of the virus, but potentially risks weakening military response times to ongoing conflicts in regions such as the Sahel, where jihadist groups may take advantage of the organizational chaos caused by the pandemic to inflict deadly attacks or other destabilizing actions.