Phoenix Express 2021, the AFRICOM-sponsored military exercise involving 13 countries in the Mediterranean Sea region, concluded last week. While its stated aim was to combat “irregular migration” and trafficking, the US record in the region indicates more nefarious interests
by Pavan Kulkarni
June 01, 2021
Phoenix Express 2021 (PE21), a 12-day US-Africa Command (AFRICOM)-sponsored military exercise involving 13 states in the Mediterranean Sea, concluded on Friday, May 28. It had kicked off from the naval base in Tunis, Tunisia, on May 16. The drills in this exercise covered naval maneuvers across the stretch of the Mediterranean Sea, including on the territorial waters of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania.
The regimes in these countries, which cover the entire northern and northwestern coastline of Africa, participated in the drill – one of the three regional maritime exercises conducted by the US Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF). Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain were the European states that participated in the drill.
Among the heavyweights deployed in the exercises was the US navy’s USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4). The 784-feet-long warship is a mobile military base which “provides for accommodations for up to 250 personnel, a 52,000-square-foot flight deck.. and supports MH-53 and MH-60 helicopters with an option to support MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft,” according to the Woody Williams Foundation. “The platform has an aviation hangar and flight deck that include four operating spots capable of landing MV-22 and MH-53E equivalent helicopters.”
When the warship entered into its maiden service with the US navy in 2017, Capt. Scot Searles, strategic and theater sealift program manager at the Program Executive Office (PEO) Ships, said, “The delivery of this ship marks an enhancement in the Navy’s forward presence and ability to execute a variety of expeditionary warfare missions.
The Algerian National Navy frigate El Moudamir (F911), Egyptian Navy frigate Toushka (F906) and Royal Moroccan Navy multi-mission frigate Sultan Moulay Ismail (FF 614) were also part of PE21, bringing with them a range weapon systems including surface-to-surface and surface to air missiles, torpedo launchers, heavy naval guns and naval radars.
According to a press release by the US navy, the purpose of this exercise was to test the ability of the participants “to respond to irregular migration and combat illicit trafficking and the movement of illegal goods and materials.”
Smugglers moving goods across the border also illicitly traffic migrants fleeing war or economic crisis in their home countries. AFRICOM has on multiple occasions acknowledged that instability in Libya is the driving force behind the migration crisis.
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