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The US warns of jihadists and Russian forces before the end of the African war games

#warns #jihadists #Russian #forces #African #war #games

The US top general for Africa has warned of “violent extremism” and the threat of Russian mercenaries in the Sahel, speaking of war games in Morocco.

“We are seeing the rise of violent extremism in West Africa, particularly in the Sahel,” said Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM).

The Sahel region is a vast area that stretches across the southern Sahara and includes countries such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

“We’re seeing the arrival of malicious actors, and I’m thinking in particular of Wagner’s Russian mercenaries,” Townsend told AFP on Thursday in the North African nation at the end of a four-week African Lion international military exercise.

“This training is not specifically designed to address these issues, but it will help all of our armed forces when we are called upon to combat these types of issues in the future,” Townsend said.

Jihadists linked to Islamic State, whose power was once thought to be waning in the Sahel, have recently expanded their reach and expressed their presence in an unprecedented series of massacres of civilians.

Mali, a former French colony where the strategic landscape has changed dramatically after two coups in August 2020 and May 2021, has been particularly hard hit.

Bamako forged closer ties with Moscow and brought in military personnel that France says are mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group.

– Air, Sea and Land Assault Exercises –

Based in the German city of Stuttgart, AFRICOM is responsible for US military operations across Africa.

More than 7,500 personnel from a dozen countries participated in the “African Lion” exercises, which took place June 6-30 with deployments in Morocco, Ghana, Senegal and Tunisia.

In addition to US troops and officers from the host countries, soldiers from Brazil, Great Britain, Chad, France, Italy and the Netherlands took part.

Military observers from NATO, the African Union and almost 30 “partner countries” took part in the Moroccan leg of the Games, including Israel for the first time.

The exercises included land, air and sea maneuvers, preparation for nuclear biological and chemical decontamination, and the delivery of medical and humanitarian assistance.

On Thursday, troops at Cap Draa in the dusty deserts of southern Morocco, about 700 kilometers (435 miles) south of Rabat, simulated a combined land and air attack on enemy columns in a live-fire exercise.

Above them, F-16 fighter jets and Apache attack helicopters roared across the sky.

Through the sand, M1 Abrams tanks and AMX-10 RC wheeled scouts plowed across the dunes, accompanied by HIMARS multiple rocket launchers firing salvos.

Plumes of smoke rose after heavy artillery fire, dust kicked up by fierce winds blowing off the Atlantic Ocean.

– ‘To defend our common interest’ –

But Townsend was keen to stress that the operations were “hypothetical” war games, a “training scenario entirely made up” and not aimed at one nation.

The exercise comes amid heightened tensions between Rabat and Algiers over disputed Western Sahara.

Former US President Donald Trump recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the territory in 2020 in exchange for Rabat resuming ties with Israel, and Algeria responded months later by cutting ties with Morocco.

The drills took place near the Western Sahara border and Saharawi refugee camps, where the Algerian-backed Polisario independence movement is based.

Townsend said the exercise was “not at all focused on Algeria” but on “improving our capabilities as armies” to work together.

“What we see today in NATO and Ukraine shows the value of strong allies and partners working together to defend our common interests,” he added.

The conflict in Ukraine dominated this week’s NATO summit in Madrid, where US President Joe Biden announced a reinforcement of the US military in Europe, including on its “southern flank” in Spain and Italy, across the Mediterranean from North Africa.

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#warns #jihadists #Russian #forces #African #war #games

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