Spain will reorganize its troops abroad in view of new priorities

Government sources say it's not a government decision but a NATO request
Spanish soldiers advance with Iraqi military during a training mission outside Baghdad, Iraq

PHOTO/AP  -   Spanish soldiers advance with Iraqi military during a training mission outside Baghdad (Iraq)

Spain will close the Gran Capitan base (Besmayah, Iraq) this summer, the most important of the Spanish troops in the country, where before the pandemic 350 of its 530 troops were deployed, the newspaper El País reported on Monday. Military sources point out that the tasks to which the troops deployed there were dedicated, consisting of the training of large units of the Iraqi Army and Police, have now been completed. The Ministry of Defence is also preparing the withdrawal of the last Spanish soldiers in Afghanistan for the end of this year or the beginning of 2021. Government sources consulted by La Vanguardia point out that the troops will be relocated to other parts of the world at the request of NATO and not by decision of the Government. 

Iraquíes
PHOTO/AP - Spanish, Iraqi and American soldiers participate in a training mission outside Baghdad (Iraq)

The Ministry of Defence had already ordered the withdrawal of the bulk of the Spanish contingent in Iraq at the end of March due to the lack of activity caused by the pandemic. The new Spanish soldiers sent to Iraq will be dedicated to collecting the material and preparing the facilities for its devolution to the Iraqi authorities, according to the newspaper El País. In the case of Afghanistan, Spain currently has around 70 troops stationed in Kabul who are dedicated to advising and protecting personnel. 

The first Spanish soldiers arrived in Afghanistan at the end of 2002, 18 years ago, and it has been the mission with the highest number of casualties of the Spanish Army, including the 62 dead in the Yak-42 tragedy. Due to the coronavirus, the activities of the Spanish military were interrupted several weeks ago. Spain then temporarily withdrew 65 military personnel. Now the final departure is being prepared

Sahel
AFP/DOMINIQUE FAGE - A Spanish soldier from the Operation Barkhane detachment stands guard at a French base outside the city of Gao (Mali)

The international coalition against Daesh had already announced a major cut in the number of troops deployed in Iraq, as a protection measure against COVID-19, since the training activities of the Iraqi Army have been halted. The Spanish instructors are part of the Besmayah Task Force, which seeks to improve the capabilities of the Asian country's military. The Spanish military has also participated in training activities in Baghdad, Al Taqaddum and Taji. The Spanish military also participates in the Toro Task Force (Helicopter Unit) whose main mission is to provide air transport to the coalition troops fighting with Daesh. 

Deployment in the Sahel

The pandemic also forced the withdrawal of 100 Spanish soldiers from the 278 deployed in the European Union mission in Mali, which is dedicated to instructing the Malian Army. Despite this, Spain has not considered withdrawing troops, but even increasing them. The withdrawal in Asia can be favoured with a greater presence in the Sahel, a territory where the jihadist groups have become strong. In addition, there are major problems with the mafias, trafficking in drugs, arms or immigrants. The insecurity in this area of Africa represents a threat to Europe that is closer than instability in the Middle East. The European Union has just approved the fifth mandate of its mission in Mali until 2024 and has even increased the budget.