26 January 2015 defenceWeb (Reuters)
Spain has started negotiating with the United States to increase the number of US troops at an air base in the south of the country and host a permanent US Marine intervention force for Africa.
The Spanish government on Friday said it was ready to extend an agreement for troops to be stationed at Moron de la Frontera near Seville.
In March 2014, Spain agreed to an increase in U.S. troops to 850 from 500 at Moron to help support coalition operations against Islamist insurgents in north and west Africa. That agreement expires in April this year, Reuters reports.
The Spanish government approved negotiations to amend the two countries' 1988 defence accord, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said after a cabinet meeting last week, according to Agence France Presse. Negotiations will discuss hosting the deployment indefinitely.
U.S. authorities have also used Moron as well as Spain's Rota naval base near Cadiz as part of an operation to combat the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
Moron Air Base has been used jointly by Spanish and U.S. air forces since 1953. It served as a springboard for U.S.-led coalition forces in the 1991 Gulf War.
The US Marine force was first stationed at Moron in April 2013 after a deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. Its temporary status was renewed last year.
Its duties in Africa include protecting embassies, rescuing military personnel and evacuating civilians or intervening in conflicts and humanitarian crises. The force is made up of 800 Marines plus air support, including MV-22 Ospreys.
Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that the new agreement could increase the strength of the contingent to 3,000 personnel if needed.
The force operates under the orders of the US military's Africa command, based in Germany.