U.S. to keep two forward bases in North Africa

Monday, March 14, 2005

The U.S. military has obtained agreement to maintain forward operating bases in at least two North African states.

Officials said that in 2004 U.S. European Command received final approval from Morocco and Tunisia to maintain forward bases. They said the bases would be lightly manned and employed in rapid-response and other emergency missions in North Africa.

'We know what is there, and we know what to bring when we come," Eucom chief Gen. James Jones said. "We can go from a zero presence to an operating base very quickly."

Jones, a marine corps officer and NATO commander in Europe, said the bases in North Africa and other areas of the Middle East mark what he termed a radical change in the U.S. military footprint. Eucom is responsible for Europe, Israel and parts of North Africa.

"Checking the spread of radical fundamentalism in the largely ungoverned spaces in Northern and Central Africa will require patience and sustained effort," Jones told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 1. "Our goal is to assist nations of the region in building and sustaining effective and responsive governments and to develop security structures responsive to emerging democratic governments. Our success depends on maintaining relevant, focused, and complementary security cooperation, tailored to the social, economic, and military realities in both Europe and Africa."

Officials said Eucom has also increased military cooperation with several North African states through the National Guard State Partnership Program. Since 2003, Eucom has teamed the Moroccan security force with the Utah National Guard and the Tunisian force with the Wyoming Guard.

Eucom plans to maintain three types of bases in its area of command. The first would be main operating bases that contain U.S. troops, such as Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and U.S. Naval Station Rota, Spain.

The second category was termed forward-operating sites. Jones termed these facilities "light-switch operations," whereby the bases would be ready for American troops and operations. He included the Turkish air force base at Incerlik in this category.

Over the last 18 months, officials said, the U.S. military has obtained permission from several countries for forward-operating sites. In addition to Morocco, Tunisia, Bulgaria and Romania have also granted approval.

The third type of U.S. basing arrangement was termed cooperative security site, which could include a fueling agreement or rapid-deployment facilities. Officials said North African states have also agreed to such an arrangement, but would not elaborate.

"These will be an inventory of geographical locations that if we need them, it will be pre-agreed with host nations that we can have access to these bases," Jones said.

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