West News Wire: Tuesday saw the Biden administration approving a possible $524 million sale of 18 Himar mobile artillery systems to Morocco, a significant friend and military partner in the unstable Sahel.
The plan, which calls for the sale of tactical missile systems and guided multiple-launch rocket systems, was made public by the US State Department to Congress on Tuesday. The Department of Defense authorized a $250 million sale of precision-guided air-to-ground bombs to Rabat in a separate announcement.
Washington and Rabat collaborate closely on counterterrorism efforts with Morocco, a significant non-Nato ally. Each year, it takes part in more than 100 military drills with the US. It co-hosts Africa Lion, the biggest military exercise in Africa, with Tunisia and Senegal.
If the sales are approved, Morocco would be the first North African country to obtain Himars, or High Mobile Artillery Rocket Systems, which are mounted on a six-wheeled vehicle and operated by a crew of three. Guided rockets launched by Himars are used for medium-range precision strikes up to 70km.
The proposed sale of long-range M57 Army Tactical Missile Systems to Morocco is notable because Washington has ruled out sending them to Kyiv for fear it could escalate the war in Ukraine.
Interest in the rocket launch system has grown as a result of its effective use by Ukrainian forces against Russia.
Himars are highly-mobile, allowing small operating crews to launch missiles and quickly disperse before being spotted by the enemy. They can also be easily loaded and unloaded onto C-130 cargo planes which Morocco maintains.
Lockheed Martin, the US defence contractor that makes Himars, said in February that it was expanding production of the unit amid surging interest. In the Arab world, only Jordan and the UAE currently boost Himars in their arsenal.
Morocco generally enjoys broad bipartisan support in Congress, which needs to approve the deal, making the sale likely. Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, one of Rabat’s fiercest critics over its policies in Western Sahara, retired this year.
Morocco annexed the sparsely populated territory in 1975 after the end of Spanish colonial rule. Since then it has been engaged in sporadic fighting with the Polisario Front, a rebel movement which established the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in 1973.
Around 175,000 Sahrawi refugees live in camps across the border in Algeria. Rabat accuses its neighbour, and arch-rival, of arming the rebels, a charge Algeria denies.
The US recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed territory in 2020 in exchange for Rabat’s normalisation of ties with Israel. The Biden administration came under pressure to roll back the Trump administration’s decision, but has said there is “no change” in the US position.
Morocco has tried to strike a balance between its US ally and Moscow.
Like other Arab states, Morocco is reliant on grain from Russia and Ukraine. Wealthy Russians have also been a fixture at the decadent nightclubs of Marrakech. President Vladimir Putin reportedly celebrated his daughter’s 2012 marriage at the glitzy La Mamounia Hotel in the city.
But Morocco has also seen some benefits from the war. Profits at state-owned fertiliser producer OCP Group surged 272 percent after fighting disrupted global fertiliser markets.