US gets permanent stronghold at Spanish military base, can triple contingent

US warplanes are seen at the Moron de la Frontera air base near Sevilla. (AFP Photo/Cristina Quicler)
Spain has signed an agreement with the US allowing to make its presence at a military base in southwest of the country permanent. Morón Air Base will be now able to station up to 3,000 troops - more than triple the size of the current contingent.

The Spanish government approved the deal on Friday. United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) recently used Morón Air Base for operations to contain the Ebola outbreak sweeping through West Africa.

The high point of US State Secretary John Kerry’s visit to Madrid on Sunday and Monday will be sealing the agreement. Once signed, the new agreement needs to be ratified by the Spanish parliament.

The top-level visit sees Kerry planning to meet King Felipe, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo.

Morón Air Base is located in Spain’s Andalusia region, the country's southernmost province. The base is less than an hour’s drive from Seville, a city with a population of almost one million.

The bilateral agreement concerning US military presence at Morón Air Base was signed back in 1988 and accords permitting US presence at the base have been renewed on an annual basis.

Initially, there were no American troops stationed there. But following a deadly attack on the US consulate in Libya’s Benghazi on September 11, 2012, which claimed the life of US Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other Americans, US troops were allowed on to the Spanish base in April 2013.

Last October, the US asked Spain for the usage of two military bases in its south as ‘stopover points’ in the American mission to control the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The request was granted and the US began utilizing Morón de la Frontera and Rota in Andalusia for its Africa missions.

The Pentagon now can augment the number of servicemen at Morón from the current 850 to 3,000 troops, with 2,200 American Marines planned to arrive shortly. The number of military aircraft stationed at the base can grow from 14 to 40.

The deal includes a pledge to invest €26 million ($US 29 million) into development of the site, reports El Pais.

Speaking at a press conference in Madrid, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said deployment of the US rapid reaction force to the country will contribute to stability not only in Africa, but in Europe and the Middle East.

The base is to remain Spanish territory, so all American unilateral missions from the base would need Spanish permission, stressed the official.

According to the deputy PM, American investment in the Morón Air Base will boost the local economy of the region.

The US Marines stationed in Spain are expected to protect American embassies in the region, perform rescue missions and intervene in regional conflicts and humanitarian crises.