Alliance Embraces Middle East and North Africa

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GABORONE, Botswana — The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has incorporated the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces into its Interoperability Platform and stepped up military cooperation and special forces training with Egypt, Tunisia and Mauritania.

Addressing the just-concluded NATO-Morocco Public Diplomacy Seminar held in Rabat, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said the new program is aimed at strengthening the defense and security sectors of partners in the Middle East and North Africa.

Vershbow said Morocco's membership of the NATO Interoperability Platform will enable its forces to be trained to standards that will enable them to operate side by side with NATO forces in continuing and upcoming joint regional security initiatives against terrorism and religious extremism.

Further, Vershbow said Morocco's joining of the NATO Interoperability Platform caps a long history of bilateral diplomatic and defense cooperation, which dates back from the Kosovo war to cooperation in the NATO aerial campaign in support of militias who fought the Libyan war in 2011 and the recent airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq.

Vershbow also lauded Moroccan efforts in support of ongoing diplomatic efforts to resolve the chaotic Libyan civil war, which has since evolved into the new regional training center, safe haven and weapons source for Islamic extremist groups.

The proliferation of these armed groups, weapons and the threats posed by returning militants who fought for ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Libya has prompted a new NATO pivot to confront militancy in the Middle East and North African regions:

"Across the Middle East and North Africa, NATO is working to develop and strengthen the defense and security sectors of our partners. We have worked with Egypt’s military to introduce new mine detection and clearing technology. We are developing a program with Tunisia to train their special forces.

"In Mauritania, NATO is supporting the construction of safe munitions depots and training military personnel as they return to civilian life. And here in Morocco, you have joined NATO’s Interoperability Platform so that our armed forces will be better able to operate side by side," Vershbow said.

He pledged NATO's willingness to continue working with regional partner armies in the areas of training and technical help to support the fight against ISIS and other militant groups in the Middle East and North African regions.

Last month, the NATO alliance deployed navy vessels and aerial assets into the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas to stop human trafficking boats from Africa and the Middle East from making the perilous crossing in search of greener pastures and sanctuary from war and famine in Europe.

Email: onkala@defensenews.com

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