85. Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Poor) to the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Clements)1


  • Moroccan Base Closures—ACTION MEMORANDUM (C)

(U) The purpose of this paper is to establish a DoD position on future military basing in Morocco. Request your approval of the course of action listed below. If you concur, we will prepare necessary correspondence to State and the NSC Staff.

(C) Background.

a. The Department of the Navy plans to close its two remaining installations in Morocco. Aware of Navy plans, our Ambassador to Morocco has asked DoD to identify any future requirements for military facilities in Morocco so he may present a complete picture to King Hassan when he reveals the Navy closures. Consequently, the Joint Chiefs of Staff surveyed Service requirements in response to ISA tasking and included their recommendations in the paper at Tab A.

b. Mr. McAuliffe provided his views on the Joint Staff recommendations prior to his departure on holiday and they are indicated where applicable. We sent you a paper on this topic last week (Tab D).

(S) Joint Staff Recommendations:

a. Close all Naval facilities in Morocco by 30 September 1978:

Discussion: Navy has no further need for its two communications stations at Bouknadel and Sidi Yahia and would also like to cease its housekeeping functions at Kenitra (annual Navy cost $12.5 million), a Moroccan Air Base. The Navy responsibility at Kenitra has been a quid for keeping the communications stations in Morocco. When Navy announced its plans some months ago, Ambassador Anderson asked [Page 226] that Navy continue to operate a small communications school for Moroccan military, also a quid for the two communications stations (annual cost to Navy for school operations: $58,000 O&M, $198,000 for 18 US military personnel (Tab B)). Navy also agreed to give one year’s notice to local national employees. We understand the Ambassador has seen and posed no objection to the Navy plan which is part of the JCS paper.

Recommendation: Express strong DoD support for the Navy plan. (Mr. McAuliffe concurs.)

b. Seek Increased Access to Port and Air Facilities:

Discussion: Recently King Hassan has been most forthcoming in allowing US naval ship visits, including nuclear powered ships. We assume this attitude will not change without a radical shift in the political situation. The same tacit agreement applies to overflight and landing rights. Nevertheless, it may be expedient to seek agreement in principle for increased access now while the climate is conducive. This might also reassure the King that our interest in Morocco has not waned.

Recommendation: Secure King’s agreement in principle to increased use of port and air facilities. (Mr. McAuliffe concurs.)

c. Seek to Utilize Moroccan Coast for SIXTHFLT Amphibious Exercises:

Discussion: Amphibious training areas available to our Marine Landing Force with the Mediterranean Fleet have diminished from 26, prior to 1960, to nine today. The fleet requires 5–7 training sites for 5–10 days during each six month deployment cycle. Most of the remaining beaches have terrain limitations or host country restrictions. We recognize, however, that if King Hassan were to allow such use of Moroccan beaches he could be the target of heavy criticism by neighboring and third world countries. There is also the likelihood that the Soviet Union might use our action as a lever to gain similar rights in one of the littoral countries.

Recommendation. Seek permission to utilize the beaches, initially for small scale exercises, emphasizing the mutual benefit aspect with the proviso that any use of the option would be preceded by a joint politico-military review. (Mr. McAuliffe asked what alternatives were available. The status is at Tab C.)

d. Negotiations for Installation of an Air Force Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) Site):

Discussion: Morocco offers an excellent location for one of five stations in this priority worldwide space surveillance system. Ambassador Anderson prefers that the site be located on one of the two Navy facilities that are scheduled for closure. The Air Force, believing that [Page 227] potential sites farther inland offer much better weather/cloud conditions (estimates range from 25–40 percent improvement), is reluctant to accept either of the Navy facilities. GEODSS would employ about 5 US military and 45 US civilians, and initially only a handful (5–10) of Moroccan personnel. It would not replace the Navy telecommunications command in terms of visibility, local employment factors, etc. While Air Force might accept one of the Navy sites we believe DoD should press for the best location.

Recommendation. Secure permission in principle to install GEODSS with full explanation of size, mission, etc. and table site negotiations pending a survey and evaluation. (Mr. McAuliffe concurs.)

e. Explore with King Hassan:

(1) Installation of a US Air Force Weapons Tactics Training Center.


Air Force presently has an air-to-ground range at Bardenas Reales and a very limited air-to-air range at Zaragoza, Spain which would continue to operate even with the Moroccan facility with little effect upon the overall US-Spanish connection. The existing Spanish fighter ranges are inadequate for air-to-air training but are suitable for air-ground training. The Moroccan base would resemble Wheelus AFB in Libya prior to its closing in 1970. It would employ approximately 350 US military, 150 US civilians, and 400–500 local nationals. We view the political risks for both the US and Morocco as significant, although King Hassan did offer such facilities in private conversations with you, Mr. Sisco, Admiral Turner, and CDR SIXTHFLT. We believe the other Arab countries and the non-aligned nations would be highly critical. We also believe that the Soviets might use the Moroccan action as a persuasive argument to seek bases in Algeria or Libya. Other problems concern funding and base rights: King Hassan could be expected to drive a hard bargain in terms of guarantees, financial as well as political; and whatever the amount of funds sought, Congress would probably require a firm basing agreement, something King Hassan has eschewed in the past.

Despite the uncertainties and political risks involved for both sides, the air training center would be a substantial asset to both the US and Moroccan defense postures. For the US, a training center in Morocco would provide the Air Force with a desperately needed place in which to conduct air combat training. The need is especially acute for the F–15s which have a primary mission of air superiority. On the Moroccan side, a US operation would show a real degree of support for the King and would enable the Moroccans to acquire training which would be of great value to their small Air Force.

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I believe that DoD should firmly support exploration of this subject with the Moroccans. A training facility in Morocco would be of immediate use and would further US/NATO interests in North Africa. The training area would be a joint venture under Moroccan command, operated by the USAF, and used by both parties.

Recommendation: We discuss this project with State and NSC and solicit their support. It should then be broached to King Hassan in the overall context of US-Moroccan relations. Following Hassan’s agreement, we would immediately conduct site surveys and feasibility studies. (Mr. McAuliffe agrees provided we do not antagonize Madrid.)

(2) Location of a SAC forward operating facility:


This facility would require a long runway, a storage area for war reserve matériel, and a hanger large enough for a B–52. It would be difficult to disguise the facility’s intended use by B–52s on strike missions or sea surveillance, and for KC–135 refueling operations in support of conventional operations. There would likely be Service pressure to use the facility in peacetime for practice during large-scale NATO exercises, at least for refueling operations.

USAF does not plan to close any part of Torrejon in Spain; a facility in Morocco would be complementary. Present plans have three squadrons of B–52s striking targets in Europe from bases in CONUS. These three squadrons could operate out of a Moroccan base with significant increase in effectiveness. There would be no change in the plan for one squadron to operate from Torrejon.

SAC is relocating refueling operations from Torrejon to Zaragoza and will be limited to five KC–135s operating from Zaragoza during peacetime. AF would like to operate a tanker force of as many as 20–25 aircraft from Morocco for restricted periods of time during NATO exercises of operations in the Mediterranean. This would have minimal impact on the US-Spanish arrangement.

Despite the obvious strategic gain for the US, a SAC base in Morocco would attract widespread international attention and King Hassan, if he were to agree, would pay a heavy political price with little direct benefit to Morocco. Criticism from the non-aligned and third world would be only one aspect; the obvious threat to Eastern Europe would incur Soviet outrage and could conceivably upset future SALT negotiations.

Recommendation: We not support this proposal. (Mr. McAuliffe questioned the need for a Moroccan base in addition to the Spanish capability.)

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(3) Location of a MAC staging area:

Discussion: This facility would be a small staging/refueling area located on an operational base and designed primarily for emergency humanitarian missions in Africa. It would employ 10–20 US military personnel and require a small repair parts storage area. We question the need for a Moroccan base in view of the large facility at Torrejon. Kenitra could easily accommodate the MAC facility but might raise the possibility of USAF assuming the Navy role in base operations.

Recommendation: Hold this item in abeyance pending outcome of Moroccan base closure negotiations. (Mr. McAuliffe believes the price of a MAC base in Morocco would be too high as long as we have Torrejon.)

James G. Poor
  1. Summary: Poor requested Clements’ approval for the Department’s position on future military basing in Morocco.

    Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–800024, Box 2, Morocco. Secret. Prepared by James P. Wootten. Tabs A through D were not attached. A stamped notation indicates that the Deputy Secretary saw it. Clements approved the first through fifth recommendations on September 10, and wrote “no” to the sixth and seventh recommendations. In a letter from Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs McAuliffe to Under Secretary Habib, September 22, Defense suggested Anderson discuss future Naval requirements with King Hassan as a way to reassure the King and secure the arrangements. (Ibid.)