The Spanish foreign and defense ministries will negotiate with US authorities over converting the Morón de la Frontera air base into a permanent center of operations against jihadism.
The Cabinet greenlighted the negotiation on Friday because bilateral security relations with the US were “one of the most important” issues for Spain, said Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría at the press conference following the meeting.
“Together with our membership of NATO and the EU, [these relations] are part of the three basic pillars of our strategic international relations for national defense,” she added.
If a deal is reached, the 850 Marines based in Morón could swell to several thousand in crisis situations
Spain is now ready to discuss a petition first formulated in December by US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who asked Spanish Defense Minister Pedro Morenés for permission to upgrade the US military center to a permanent headquarters for the Pentagon’s Africa Command task force.
If a deal is reached, the elite force of 850 Marines based in Morón could swell to several thousand in crisis situations, and become a permanent presence in southern Andalusia. The force’s main goal is slowing down the advance of jihadism in the Maghreb and Sahel regions of Africa.
The final agreement will be reflected in an Amendment Protocol to the 1988 bilateral defense agreement between Spain and the US. A first amendment was approved in 2002 to allow US army and air force intelligence services to act on Spanish soil, and in 2012 a second amendment permitted the deployment of four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers at the other US base in Rota (Cádiz).
The new reform will turn Morón into a permanent base for the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force for Crisis Response, created after the September 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The rapid response unit arrived in Spain in 2013 on a one-year authorization, and in 2014 it was extended for an additional year, raising the number of Marines there from 500 to 850.
But this new deal cannot simply be extended by the government. Because it requires the reform of an international treaty, it also needs to be ratified by the Spanish parliament.
The National Security Council (CSN) will hold its first meeting of the year on Friday, when it is scheduled to analyze a government plan against jihadist activities in Spain.
The National Strategic Plan to Fight Violent Radicalization was drafted by the Interior Ministry to try to curb the recruitment of Muslim combatants on Spanish soil by terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Government sources said the plan considers not just punitive measures but also preventive ones, such as cutting off financing, helping Muslim communities integrate into society and preventing the spread of intolerant views of Islam.
The ministry had been working on this plan for two years, but the Paris attacks on the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket drove the Spanish executive to give the document top priority.
The text builds on an earlier counter-terrorism plan drafted by the previous Socialist administration.