UNIFIL forces August 3, 2010 (AP)
UNIFIL forces on patrol in southern Lebanon, August 2010. Photo by AP
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Spain will withdraw up to half of its military contingent in Lebanon by the end of the year, Defense Minister Pedro Morenes said Tuesday, justifying the decision partly on budget cuts demanded by the country's economic crisis.

Spain has had about 1,100 troops in Lebanon since 2006 as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). That outfit was originally created in 1978 to restore peace and security after Israel's withdrawal from the country.

A large part of the mission's goals had been achieved, Morenes said. He also justified the withdrawal on Spain's economic constraints, which forced the government to "rationalize" defense costs.

The initial plan had been to pull out half of the troops in 2013.

Morenes did not exclude the possibility of withdrawing Spanish troops from Afghanistan earlier than planned, if the situation there allowed for it. Spain is currently due to pull out of Afghanistan gradually by 2014.

The army budget has been slashed by a quarter over the past four years, the daily El Pais reported Tuesday.

The Defense Ministry was now planning to cut 15,000 military and 5,000 civilian staff out of a total of 130,000 over the course of 13 years, according to the daily.
The report also mentioned plans to close military installations and air bases. The idea was the create a smaller but better equipped army, the report said.

The Spanish government has cut spending across the board in an attempt to trim its budget deficit in agreement with the European Union. The government last week announced budget cuts worth 65 billion euros (80 billion dollars).