Ceremony of signature of the deal. Source: www.northafricapost.com

On Friday, October 2, 2020, Morocco and the US signed an agreement for military cooperation, valid for a period of 10 years. Among others, the deal “serves as a road map for defense cooperation and aims to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries and support shared security goals,” according to a statement issued by the Moroccan Foreign Ministry. On top of that, it centers on “consolidating common security objectives, especially improving the degree of military readiness,” a statement from the General Command of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces said.

Morocco is the first buyer of US arms in Africa and plans to develop its own military industry to reduce dependence on imports.

Being in charge of the conclusion of the deal, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed the 10-year agreement during a two-day visit to Morocco, his last stop on a tour of three North African nations, which began last week in Tunisia, where he also signed a 10-year military cooperation deal with Tunis on Wednesday, hailing their collaboration over the conflict in Libya.

In a speech at an American war cemetery in Carthage, he accused US rivals China and Russia of using “malign, coercive, and predatory behavior” to undermine African institutions and expand their “authoritarian influence”. But on Thursday, he visited Russian and Chinese ally Algeria, becoming the first US defense chief to do so since Donald Rumsfeld almost 15 years ago, in 2006. He held a meeting with President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and the army chief, Gen. Saïd Chengriha. No deals were known to be signed there, but the US defense secretary reportedly discussed expanding security cooperation and security issues in the Sahel region. Moreover, Algeria is trying to reactivate its role on the regional diplomatic scene, including as a mediator in the conflicts in Mali and Libya.

Overall, his Maghreb tour aimed at strengthening the fight against terrorism and Islamic extremists in the Sahel and helping reach a settlement in Libya. In what regards Morocco, it is seen as a key ally in the region for solving the above-mentioned crises.

“Now more than ever, our two nations are working closely together to tackle the challenges of the increasingly complex security environment, ranging from counterterrorism and other transnational threats to regional instability and broader strategic challenges,” he said before the signing in Morocco.

Afterward, speaking at the signing ceremony of the landmark agreement, Esper highlighted the longstanding partnership between the US and Morocco citing a convergence of views regarding a range of security threats. “Morocco is a major non-NATO ally and a gateway to Africa,” he said, adding that the two countries share the same concern to safeguard regional security and stability. In this respect, he said the ten-year military cooperation roadmap will ensure that the partnership endures for generations to come, noting that friendly African countries stand to benefit from this defense deal.

For his part, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said the deal comes in a series of milestones as part of a multi-pronged partnership that ranges from security to economics and regular political consultations. Esper’s visit is also the first of a Pentagon chief in the Trump’s administration, Bourita said.

In a statement on Mark Esper’s talks in Morocco, the US Department of Defense highlighted Saturday “the strong leadership” of King Mohammed VI, at a time when the African continent faces multiple threats, highlighting the progress and strength of the US – Moroccan partnership as part of a larger effort to counter instability on the continent. Esper and Bourita “shared their mutual concerns about regional instability caused by violent extremist groups and coercive foreign activity”, the statement said, adding that the two officials also “discussed the important work of the Transitional Government in Mali to restore constitutional rule and prevent terrorists from taking advantage of the situation”.

The Center for International Policy (CIP) recently released a report saying that Morocco purchases 91% of its arms from the US. In addition to military cooperation, Morocco and the US are considered mutually reliable allies on security, as evidenced in their shared commitment to combating the scourge of terrorism in the MENA region and beyond. Also, units from the US and Moroccan armed forces participate in the annual “African Lion” military exercise, “a key training exercise for many countries, not only the US and Morocco”, as Esper said, the largest military exercise for American troops in Africa. This year’s “African Lion” exercise was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The US-Morocco alliance is especially strong on counter-terrorism and de-radicalization. In the US Department of State’s annual reports on terrorism in the MENA region and elsewhere, US security experts and officers regularly laud Morocco’s counter-terrorism architecture.

This article was edited using data from the following websites: www.moroccoworldnews.com, www.al-monitor.com, www.militarynews.com, www.thearabweekly.com, www.northafricapost.com, and www.military.com.

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