Marines of 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Battalion Landing Team, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit wait to be extracted by helicopter during a rehearsal of the final exercise at Exercise Africa Lion 2012. This year's exercise is a scaled-down version in preparation for African Lion 2015, which is slated to be the biggest the continent has ever seen. (Cpl. Tyler Main / Marine Corps)
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Marines are back in Morocco for African Lion a year after the local government abruptly canceled the largest annual exercise on the continent, sending hundreds of leathernecks packing, and they’re preparing for next year’s iteration to be the most robust yet.
Members of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., and 25th Marines, a Massachusetts-based reserve unit, are participating in the multinational exercise that teams them with Moroccan and German troops from March 27 to April 5. This year’s exercise is a scaled-down version in preparation for African Lion 2015, which is slated to be the biggest the continent has ever seen. The plan is to combine it with another U.S. Africa Command-sponsored exercise also held in Morocco, said Master Sgt. Chad McMeen, a spokesman for Marine Forces Europe and Africa.
“The 2015 exercise is expected to incorporate the Air Force F-16 exercise, formerly known as Majestic Eagle, into the training making it the largest planned exercise in its history,” he said.
African Lion is intentionally planned to go from a large-scale exercise one year to a smaller version the following, McMeen said.
“This gives planners and participants a chance to build a knowledge foundation with a reduced scale before conducting a larger combined exercise,” he said.
The troops will conduct various training missions meant to enhance cooperation and understanding about each other’s tactics, techniques and procedures, McMeen said. It will include a command post exercise, intelligence capacity building workshops, peace support operation exercises and humanitarian civic assistance, he said. The troops will also practice responding to crises scenarios in order to increase interoperability between the three countries, he said.
Last year, about 1,400 Marines, soldiers and sailors had to pack up and redeploy out of Morocco days after arriving for African Lion 2013. The Marines, led by 14th Marines, 4th Marine Division, a Marine Corps Forces Reserve artillery unit out of Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, but with subordinate units spread across 13 states, had been training for the event for about six months.
The surprising turn of events came after the country’s leaders took exception to the Obama administration’s support for the placement of United Nations human rights monitors in the disputed Western Sahara territory.
Despite last year’s dust-up, McMeen said the U.S. and Moroccan militaries remain long-standing partners. In addition to the countries participating, 13 other European and African nations are observing the exercise this year in anticipation of becoming participants in future exercises, he said.
Staff writer Kent Miller contributed to this report.