Pentagon Cancels US-Morocco African Sea Lion 2020 amid Escalating Tensions between US & Iran
Amid escalating tensions between the USA and Iran, the Pentagon has canceled the joint American-Moroccan marine exercise, African Sea Lion 2020, that was due to start on January 8 in Agadir.
Amid rising tensions with Iran, the Navy is scrapping an exercise with Morocco as it redirects amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5) and embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to the Middle East, a defense official on Friday told USNI News, a website specialized in war navy news.
The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group had just arrived off the coast of Morocco this week before its new tasking, according to USNI News.
Members of the 26th MEU and Bataan crew were slated to train with members of the Moroccan military as part of the joint Exercise African Sea Lion. Now, Bataan and the 26th MEU are moving closer to the Middle East.
“USS Bataan and embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are underway conducting routine operations, demonstrating the inherent flexibility of our naval forces,” Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Comer, a US 6th Fleet spokesman told USNI News. “For operational security reasons, we do not discuss future operations. ARGMEUs operate continuously across the globe to provide commanders with a forward-deployed, flexible and responsive sea-based Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”
The Marines will join soldiers from the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 82nd Airborne who have been sent to Iraq as a security measure following the US operation that killed the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
The top Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani was killed by a US drone attack, on Thursday Jan 2, according to the Department of Defense.
The US president ordered the attack, believing that Soleimani posed a threat to American military personnel and diplomats in the region.
US officials announced that 3,000 additional troops will be deployed to the Middle East as a security measure.
The US Marines will now join soldiers from the Fort Bagg, N.C.-based 82nd Airborne who deployed following the killing of the Iranian army general Qasem Soleimani alongside Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, USNI News.
“Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” according to a Pentagon statement.
On Friday, several news organizations reported the Pentagon was sending up to 3,500 more 82nd soldiers to the region, in case Iran or Iranian-backed forces attempted retaliation attacks following Soleimani’s death.
The new deployments and the death of Soleimani are part of a recent string of escalating interactions between Iran, Iranian-backed forces and the US in Iraq and Syria.
On Tuesday, a mob including members of the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia stormed the front gate of the US Embassy compound in Baghdad. The mob was protesting recent US military airstrikes on five Kataib Hezbollah sites in Iraq and Syria.
The Pentagon quickly sent about 100 Marines from the Kuwait-based Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF)-Crisis Response-Central Command was sent to enhance security at the US Embassy compound in Baghdad.
On New Year’s Day, the Pentagon sent about 750 members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division to Kuwait.