Africa Defense Forum
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Phoenix Express Strengthens Partnerships in the Mediterranean

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“In cooperation there is strength.”

That was the message Tunisian Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Adel Jehane took from this year’s Phoenix Express, a multinational maritime exercise involving every coastal nation in North Africa.

Tunisia hosted the exercise’s 16th edition May 17-28, bringing together maritime forces from 13 nations: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, as well as Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain and the United States.

Frigates from Algeria, Egypt and Morocco joined the Tunisian fleet for the main part of the exercise at La Goulette Naval Base in Tunis. They participated in maneuvers to test their response to criminal activity.

The training is part of a broader North African effort to strengthen military relations, shut down trafficking networks and exchange experiences. The exercise included lectures, practical exercises and conferences.

Naval personnel shared techniques and learned from one another. In one training, they worked on restraint devices, practiced how to take down combative detainees and how to handle compliant detainees. Another seminar for boarding parties dealt with techniques used by drug smugglers and how to collect and store evidence.

Egyptian Sailors conduct a visit, board, search and seizure drill during Phoenix Express on May 25, 2021. U.S. NAVY

The goals of the annual event are to increase regional cooperation, maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices and operational capabilities, while enhancing the promotion of safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea and North African territorial waters.

In those waters, the maritime forces tested their abilities to combat illicit trafficking. The exercise also addressed how to respond to irregular migration.

Senior Capt. Jamel Ben Omrane of the Tunisian Navy said Phoenix Express offers much more than its stated goals.

“It is a strategic opportunity for all participating nations to build a fruitful partnership and benefit from the others’ experience,” he said in a news release.

Omrane said Phoenix Express tested the region’s navies at multiple levels.

“Phoenix Express 2021 is a tridimensional event,” he said. “[It] moves from the strategic aspect, where the leaders find the opportunity to draw the broad lines of Med Sea security to then cross the operational sphere, where one can exercise the command and the control of a multinational group enforcing a common objective to finally arrive at the tactical level, which offers CO’s (commanding officers) the possibility of carrying out different types of maneuvers at sea.”

Phoenix Express is held in a different location every year. The 2021 exercise marked a return to collaboration on the seas after the 2020 event was canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Through determination, perseverance and commitment, we were able to overcome countless predicaments due the global pandemic,” Jehane said.

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