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Marine Corps assigns elite units to Pacific, Middle East, Africa

Sep. 29, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Combat Reconnaissance Patrol March 28-30
MARSOC Marines take a knee in a wheat field in Suji as Afghan National Army Soldiers and Marine Special Operation Command Marines patrol through a village in in Afghanistan on March 29. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Pilch / Air Force)
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As the war in Afghanistan winds down, the Marine Corps’ special operations community is aligning its three battalions with the U.S. military’s global combatant commands, focusing on the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and Africa.

Officials with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command say the shift involves all three Marine special operations battalions, or MSOBs, and entails new training and missions. First MSOB, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., will align with Special Operations Command Pacific, while 2nd MSOB and 3rd MSOB, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., will partner respectively with Special Operations Command Central and Special Operations Command Africa.

The initiative creates “regionally attuned, linguistically capable, and culturally knowledgeable” special operations forces, said Capt. Adrian Ambe, a MARSOC spokesman. “Regionalization ... is now being implemented; it will culminate once the Afghanistan mission has ended.”

Left unclear is how long MARSOC could remain in Afghanistan. It has had a broad role there since 2007, and it remains possible MARSOC operators will be conducting missions in theater past the 2014 deadline to withdraw U.S. combat forces.

Of note, however, in mid-September the last remaining “village stability platform” in Afghanistan’s Helmand province was transferred from U.S. special operations personnel to Afghan forces. MARSOC has maintained a steady presence in Helmand, working with Afghan commandos, conventional army troops and local police to improve security, facilitate development, and foster fledgling governments.

Lessons learned in Afghanistan will aid MARSOC’s global realignment, said Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, head of Marine Corps Forces Pacific. Officials will have an opportunity to evaluate this during the coming months, when East Coast and West Coast Marine expeditionary units deploy with some MARSOC personnel in tow.

“The operational synergies realized in Afghanistan can be applied to the PACOM theater with great effect,” Robling told Marine Corps Times. “We continue to foster this relationship [with MARSOC] and look forward to the 11th MEU deployment, which will feature the first ever Special Operations Force Liaison Element deployment.”

For MARSOC’s Marines, language training will become a greater emphasis, Ambe said. The command already sends select personnel to intensive nine- to 12-month advanced courses in languages spoken throughout the Middle East and Southeast Asia, but soon all new critical skills operators will be required to study a “core language” once they complete MARSOC’s introductory training course, Ambe said.

“Some,” he added, “will go on to attend advanced language training later in their careers.”

Additional region-specific training may be coming as well. MARSOC is coordinating with the U.S. Special Operations Command’s individual theater commands to learn what skills its operators may need that are not part of their current regimen, Ambe said. “Once identified,” he added, “each MSOB will dedicate time within their predeployment training to address regional intricacies.”■

Staff writer Gina Harkins contributed to this report.

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