An Egyptian protester waves the national flag during street clashes in Cairo on March 22. The Pentagon has approved a forward-deployed, 500-man Marine air-ground task force that could respond quickly to crises in northern Africa. (KHALED DESOUKI / Agence France-Presse)
- Filed Under
The Pentagon has approved the development of a new 500-man Marine crisis-response force, but the U.S. must still determine where it will be based overseas, two top Marine officers said.
The unit is called Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force–Crisis Response, said Lt. Gen. Richard Tryon, deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations. It will include a company of infantrymen and be based around six MV-22B Ospreys and two KC-130J Hercules tanker planes, he said.
“It basically has a wide range of capability sets,” Tryon said, speaking April 8 at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Expo held outside Washington. “The intent for the crisis-response force is just that. … It’s to move in and offset whatever challenges there are to our national interests.”
The unit was conceived to cope with the kind of turmoil that has arisen during the last year in Mali, Algeria, Libya and other northern- African countries. It will report to Army Gen. David Rodriguez, who recently became the commander of U.S. Africa Command.
Tryon said the new force is not a Marine expeditionary unit or a Fleet Anti-Terrorism Support Team, but it will be able to complement or augment those forces when necessary. MEUs, deployed aboard ships with Navy amphibious ready groups, have been called on to help in a variety of crises. FAST platoons are used to reinforce U.S. infrastructure overseas, especially embassies and other State Department facilities.
Assistant Commandant Gen. John “Jay” Paxton told reporters April 9 at the same expo that U.S. officials are still working politically to find a home for the unit overseas. Some media reports have suggested it could be based out of Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, but that has not been confirmed.
Top Marine officers have forecasted at great length the service’s shift to more operations in the Pacific, but the Corps also is expanding operations in Africa. Most prominently, SPMAGTF-Africa, forward-based out of Sigonella, travels in 15- or 20-man teams to advise, assist and train friendly militaries in Africa. The most recent iteration deployed from Camp Lejeune, N.C., in January with about 130 Marines from 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines.
“We can do this,” Commandant Gen. Jim Amos told Marine Corps Times in January, referring to the new crisis-response force. “This is what we do for a living. We would go forward into a combatant commander’s theater with this capability and give it to him, and then we would refresh the capability every six months.”
The new unit could respond to such crises as the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Gen. Carter Ham, the outgoing chief of AFRICOM, told Congress in March that threats from Islamic extremists in Africa are increasing and pose threats to American interests.
“I think we have the opportunity now to work preventative efforts in concert with African forces and with allies and friends globally to suppress the threat, to reverse the trend, which is increasingly worrisome to me,” Ham told the House Armed Services Committee. “And that does not necessitate a large commitment of U.S. forces. And I do not believe that a large commitment of U.S. forces is either necessary or appropriate under the current circumstance.”
The crisis response force could help in that regard, Marine officials said. It will have a light footprint without relying on amphibious ships at a time when there’s a shortage, said Brig. Gen. Matthew Glavy, assistant deputy commandant for aviation, speaking in March at an event run by the Defense Strategies Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
“When we’re kind of tight on amphibious ships, which we are,” Glavy said, “we’ve got to be vicious opportunists and figure out how we can support the [combatant commander] with the depth and breadth that he requires.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.