June 18th, 2015 16:57 EST
U.S., Spain Agree to Make U.S. Crisis Force Deployment Permanent
By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
U.S. and Spanish officials yesterday signed an amendment to the nations` defense agreement that will change the deployment of the U.S. crisis response force at Moron Air Base from temporary to permanent, defense officials said today.
In the State Department`s Treaty Room, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Spanish Deputy Foreign Minister Ignacio Ybanez signed the Third Protocol of Amendment to the U.S.-Spanish Agreement for Defense and Cooperation.
The amendment, when the Spanish parliament approves it, will make permanent the temporary deployment of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force for Crisis Response at Moron Air Base.
The crisis response task force protects U.S. diplomatic personnel and facilities in Africa and supports efforts to stabilize an area of shared concern, defense officials said.
The United States bases nearly 4,000 personnel in Spain at Naval Station Rota and at Moron Air Base.
We are very grateful to our Spanish allies and partners and friends for this agreement. You`ve hosted the United States military for more than 60 years now, and every day this partnership, this relationship, grows stronger, " Blinken said.
On behalf of the U.S. government, the deputy secretary expressed gratitude for the long years of military cooperation and anticipation of many more years of strong partnership.
Years of Cooperation
Blinken also presented Ybanez with a letter from Secretary of State John Kerry, who is recovering from a recent bike accident that kept him from signing the amendment in Madrid as planned.
Secretary Kerry " very much wished he could be here to do this today, " Blinken said. We now have him back in Washington. We`re going to get him back in the building very soon, but he asked me to convey this to you and to the foreign minister on his behalf. "
The amendment allows for a maximum long-term U.S. military presence at the base of 2,200 military personnel, 500 U.S. Defense Department civilian employees and 21 aircraft.
After U.S. consultations with the Spanish government, a surge capability was included in the amendment of another 800 dedicated military crisis-response task force personnel and 14 aircraft at Moron, for a total of 3,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel and 35 aircraft.
Bolstering Crisis Response
The surge capability would temporarily bolster crisis response capabilities, defense officials said.
The presence of the crisis response task force in Spain has increased joint training opportunities, with more than 52 joint exercises in the past two years, an increase of more than 50 percent, the officials added.
Long-term basing and increased joint training will benefit NATO interoperability, they said.
The amendment comes three years after the second protocol of amendment to the defense and cooperation agreement, which gave the United States permission to homeport four ballistic-missile defense-capable ships in Rota as Spain`s contribution to NATO`s ballistic missile defense.
Three ships have arrived, and the fourth is due in September, defense officials said.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)