US to boost troop presence in Spain

Spain has approved plans to host an expanded US Marine Corps force that is designed to respond to crises in Africa and rescue American diplomats in emergencies, officers said on Monday.

US to boost troop presence in Spain
The "crisis response" task force was created in the aftermath of the 2012 deadly attack on a US diplomatic post in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Photo: Cristina Quickler/AFP

The "crisis response" task force was created in the aftermath of the 2012 deadly attack on a US diplomatic post in the Libyan city of Benghazi, which left four Americans dead.

Under the agreement with Madrid, the US military presence at Moron air base will increase to 850 Marines, along with additional aircraft, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told reporters.

"Spain has agreed to allow the task force to temporarily base there for an additional year and to increase the number of Marines from 500 to 850," Warren said, adding Washington was grateful to the Spanish government for the decision.

The rapid reaction force has already been called on several times since its creation, including for a mission to evacuate much of the US embassy staff in Juba when violence erupted in South Sudan.

The contingent, which the corps calls the "Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response," has a fleet of KC-130 transport planes and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft at its disposal.

The task force was set up in response to the Benghazi attack, as the military examined "how we could better respond to crises in the world," according to Warren.

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Spain drops probe into ex-military WhatsApp ‘kill squad’

Spanish prosecutors have dropped an investigation into messages posted in a WhatsApp group of retired military officers that denounced Spain's left-wing government and discussed shooting political adversaries.

Spain drops probe into ex-military WhatsApp 'kill squad'

The group was made up of high-ranking retired members of the air force with some of the messages leaked in December to the Infolibre news website, sparking public outrage.

The messages focused on the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose Socialists rule alongside the hard-left Podemos in Spain’s first coalition government since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

“I don’t want these scoundrels to lose the elections. No. I want them and all of their offspring to die,” wrote one.

“For them to die, they must be shot and 26 million bullets are needed,” wrote another, referring to the number of people who cast their ballots in favour.

Prosecutors opened their investigation in mid-December after finding the statements were “totally contrary to the constitutional order with veiled references to a military coup”.

But they dropped the probe after concluding the content of the chat did not constitute a hate crime by virtue of the fact it was a private communication.

“Its members ‘freely’ expressed their opinions to the others ‘being confident they were among friends’ without the desire to share the views elsewhere,” the Madrid prosecutors office said.

The remarks constituted “harsh” criticism that fell “within the framework of freedom of expression and opinion,” it said.

The decision is likely to inflame protests that erupted in mid-February over the jailing of a Spanish rapper for tweets found to be glorifying terrorism, a case that has raised concerns over freedom of speech in Spain.

According to Infolibre, some of the chat group also signed a letter by more than 70 former officers blaming the Sanchez government for the “breakdown of national unity” that was sent to Spain’s King Felipe VI in November.

Such remarks echo criticism voiced by Spain’s rightwing and far-right opposition that has denounced the government for courting separatist parties in order to push legislation through parliament where it only holds a minority.