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Major Military Exercise in Africa Now Canceled

In this Feb. 18, 2020, photo, Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service troops exercise under the supervision of British special forces during U.S. military-led annual counterterrorism exercise in Thies, Senegal.

One of the U.S. military's largest exercises in Africa has been canceled due to the threat of the coronavirus, after already being significantly scaled down last week.

U.S. Africa Command said Monday the decision to cancel the massive, U.S.-led African Lion exercise was made "out of an abundance of caution" and based on both international travel restrictions associated with COVID-19 and the desire to minimize the risk of service members being exposed to the coronavirus.

The massive, U.S.-led African Lion exercises in Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal were supposed to involve 9,300 troops from eight nations. The troops use the exercises to improve military readiness and integration, while preparing to combat transregional threats.

Last week, Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, told VOA and The Wall Street Journal that he had decided to to significantly scale down the exercise "in scale and scope" based on coronavirus concerns.

At that time, Army exercises were to be cut because they involved troops being housed in closed quarters. However, Townsend and his international partners had planned to continue training events that required "less interaction between large troop formations like air activity, naval activity, and maybe some special operations activity," the general said.

African Lion was scheduled to take place from March 23 to April 4.

While African Lion 2020 has been canceled, planning continues for 2021.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials have significantly scaled down long-awaited Defender 2020 exercises in Europe.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Monday that while the main exercise may be constrained, the Pentagon hopes to continue some individual components of the exercise to get as "much benefit out of them as possible."

Defender 2020 was intended to test the Army’s ability to move a force of between 10,000-20,000 troops for training across 10 European countries.

About 6,000 soldiers had already deployed from the United States to Europe since January.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.