On the first leg of a visit to three North African countries, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper and Tunisian Defense Minister Ibrahim Bartagi agreed on a road map for defense cooperation during meetings in the capital city of Tunis Sept. 30.
The road map discussed yesterday charts a 10-year course for cooperation between the two countries. Tunisia, a major non-NATO ally of the U.S., already works with the U.S. on many shared interests and concerns – the agreement looks to advance these shared security interests. The road map also recognizes the importance of the U.S.-Tunisian relationship in North Africa and the Mediterranean. Tunisia is a "security exporter" in the region, participating in many exercises and cooperating with other nations in security matters.
In Tunisia Esper also visited American Battle Monuments Cemetery from World War II. Tens of thousands of American service members died in North Africa beginning Nov. 8, 1942, when the amphibious landings began in Morocco and Algeria as part of Operation Torch.
The American graves are a tangible example of the U.S. commitment to Africa. "It's important for us to flag the fact that not only have we worked with them for so many years, we're continuing to work with them today," the senior defense official said. "We have an enduring commitment."
In a visit with Algerian leadership Oct. 1, Esper discussed expanding military cooperation between the U.S. and Algeria with President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. The two leaders discussed the security situation in North Africa and the Sahel, the way forward in Libya and the uncertainties in Mali. They also discussed the threats from violent extremist organizations in the region and beyond.
"There are a number of areas where we plan to increase our cooperation, such as in counterterrorism. We look to improve our exercises and training together," Esper said. "We also discussed other issues involving our militaries, which I am confident will increase our interoperability as well."
Before arriving at the presidential office, Esper placed a wreath at the Martyrs Monument. The monument stands as a memorial for the more than 1 million Algerians who lost their lives fighting for independence from France, which they gained in 1962.
Esper and Morocco's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Bourita, signed a defense cooperation road map in Rabat, Morocco, Oct. 2. The road map charts cooperation between the two nations through 2030.
"Now more than ever, our two nations are working closely to tackle the challenges of an increasingly complex security environment ranging from counterterrorism and other transnational threats to regional instability and broader strategic challenges," Esper said. "We do this together to promote the security, the stability and the prosperity of our shared goals and our peoples."
The goal is to continually reinforce America's long-standing, steadfast commitment to Morocco and, by extension, to Africa, the secretary said. The road map will allow the U.S. and Morocco to improve defense cooperation, partnerships and interoperability. One specific was the importance of the African Lion exercise, which draws participants from across the continent.
"It is a key training and exercise event for many, many years, not just between the U.S. and Morocco," Esper said.
U.S. forces help with training, equipping and strengthening African nations militaries. The DOD efforts are just part of the broader U.S. interagency engagement.