June 8 (UPI) -- The African Lion 21 exercise has begun with 7,800 troops in Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal from nine nations and NATO, U.S. Africa Command said Tuesday.
The exercise, meant to prepare U.S. and partner nation forces, kicked off Monday in the three African countries, according to a statement from the command.
AFRICOM is responsible for enhancing security and stability in 53 African states and advancing and protecting U.S. national interests.
"African Lion 2021 is U.S. Africa Command's premier, joint and multi-national annual exercise," U.S. Africa Command commander U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said in the statement.
"African Lion is an excellent example of the United States' long-term commitment to Africa and recognition of Africa's strategic importance to the United States," Townsend said.
The goal of the multi-national, multi-branch exercise that will continue through June 18 is to strengthen interoperability among partner nations and operation preparedness in the African theater of operations.
"This exercise is all about readiness," Townsend said. "Readiness of our partners, and readiness of our forces. It brings together various ideas, experiences, and capabilities -- ultimately making us stronger partners and more capable multi-national force," Townsend said.
Though not a NATO member, Morocco, in North Africa, is regarded as a major ally of the United States.
Activities for the exercise have been slated to take place across Morocco, from Kenitra Air Base in the north to Tan Tan and the Grier Labouihi training complex further south, along with Senegal and Tunisia, which will feature different military branches showing off maneuvers.
U.S. Air Forces Europe and Africa have coordinated air training exercises that feature U.S. and Moroccan air maneuvers including bombers, fighters and aerial refueling.
In the maritime portion, U.S. Naval Forces Africa will lead demonstrations, including naval gunfire exercise, multiple-sea-based maneuvers, and crisis response capabilities.
U.S. Air Force Airman from the Air National Guard in Utah, which partners with U.S. African Command's State Partnership Program, will conduct a humanitarian civic assistance event in Morocco.
In Senegal, U.S. and Senegalese militaries will also show off their ability to rapidly deploy and integrate in response to a crisis.
And in Tunisia, U.S. and Tunisian Armed Forces will carry out command post exercises and small unit tactical training.
The joint annual exercise was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Due to last year's cancelation of African Lion, we had a head start in planning this year's exercise," Townsend said in the statement.
"We understand how important this training is to our forces and our partners and how to better operate in a degraded COVID-19 environment. We will ensure successful training while taking necessary COVID-19 precautionary measures in order to do so," Townsend said.
The U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa, replaced the U.S. Marine Corps in assuming the lead responsibility for the African Lion exercise in 2019.