US looks to build up Africa crisis response force
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 23, 2014
STUTTGART, Germany — The Marine Corps’ 500-strong crisis response team based in southern Spain could soon be growing as part of an effort to beef up the military’s ability to respond to flash points in volatile African hot spots.
The U.S. has formally requested permission from the Spanish government to expand the Marine reaction force by 50 percent and extend its presence in Morón, Spain, by one more year, according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
The request was made during Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s visit last week to the White House, the paper reported.
During that visit, President Barack Obama thanked the Spanish government for its support in hosting U.S. forces in the country and mentioned the opportunity for more collaboration on military matters.
“We thanked the Prime Minister and his government as well as the opposition in Spain for the support they have for our work together, including hosting some of our military operations and facilities, which allow us I think to protect our embassies and to deal with issues of counter-terrorism,” Obama said, according to a White House transcript. “And we pledged to continue to try to improve and deepen what is already a very strong defense relationship.”
According to El Pais, the temporary nature of the bilateral basing agreement means the Spanish government could approve an increase of between 750 to 900 Marines without modifying the current agreement.
The effort to bolster the Marines presence comes at a time of unrest in numerous parts of Africa, including South Sudan, Mali and the Central African Republic, as well as ungoverned territory across much of the Sahel.
Earlier this month, Morón-based Marines deployed in Africa were called on to assist in the evacuation of U.S. Embassy staff in South Sudan, a country teetering on the brink of civil war. The unit also has been placed on alert in connection with hostilities in other parts of the continent.
The unit, a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force, possesses significant airlift capabilities, including KC-130s and tilt-rotor Ospreys, which take off like helicopters and fly like airplanes.
The Marines also have a similar MAGTF in southern Italy, which focuses mainly on training missions with African militaries. The MAGTF combines airlift capabilities and ground forces under a single commander, making it an ideal force for executing operations on the sprawling African continent.