U.S.-Moroccan Training, Cooperation to Expand
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
MARRAKECH, Morocco, Feb. 14, 2000, Feb. 14, 2000 U.S. troops can expect to see more of their Moroccan counterparts in the future, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said here Feb. 11.
"A new security dialogue is going to enable us to discuss ways to improve the quality of our training exercises together," Cohen said. "It will also enable us to consider multilateral exercises with other countries that are involved in NATO's Mediterranean initiative.
The secretary visited Morocco Feb. 10 and 11 to strengthen ties with one of America's long-standing allies. The United States signed a treaty of peace and friendship with the North African nation in 1787, and the two countries have been "partners both in war and peace ever since," he said.
U.S. and Moroccan troops currently serve together in Bosnia and Kosovo, he noted. They also worked together during Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait, and also in Somalia.
During the Cold War, the United States contributed significant military aid to Morocco -- about $40 million per year, according to a senior U.S. defense official traveling with Cohen. This aid has diminished to about $4 million a year since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
"What we are trying now is to expand the nature of the relationship beyond what it's been," Cohen said en route to Marrakech, a city at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. "They need to, for example, modernize their military. We hope they can look to us for some assistance in how we have tried to reshape our own forces."
Moroccan Royal Air Force Col. Abdelali Houari welcomed Cohen's visit to the Royal Moroccan Air Force Training Base and Royal Air Academy here. The base commander said the presence of the Pentagon's top civilian leader enhanced and reinforced the historic friendship between the United States and Morocco.
He led Cohen on a quick tour of classrooms, laboratories and maintenance facilities, before taking his American guest outdoors to watch Moroccan pilots of the Green March aerobatics team display their skills. For about 20 minutes, Cohen watched French-built CAP-231 aircraft sweep across the sky, trailing white billowing smoke tails. The planes soared up, up, and then over. They flew individual loops and close formations to plunge earthward in corkscrew spirals before soaring off to the horizon.
The next stop on Cohen's agenda was a meeting with King Mohamed VI. It was the secretary's second meeting with the king, who is also Morocco's minister of defense and commander of the armed forces. The earlier meeting occurred during a 1998 visit to Morocco. At that time, however, Mohamed VI was the North African nation's crown prince.
Following the meeting, Cohen held a press conference where he saluted the Moroccan king as "a young, dynamic leader who is building on his late father's policies."
"King Mohamed is committed to improving the welfare of all Moroccans, strengthening government institutions and expanding human rights," the secretary said. "He also wants Morocco to remain a leading force for peace and stability. To this end, we agreed to open an expanded security and defense dialogue between our countries that will enable us to explore ways to expand our cooperation."
The two nations will also examine ways their militaries can work together to promote reform and modernization, Cohen said. "As this security dialogue evolves, it will be another sign of the strong relations between our countries," he said.