Egyptian political activists, victims and prisoners' relatives shout slogans during a protest against prosecutor general Talaat Abdallah outside Cairo High Court on March 29. The Marine Corps has deployed a new crisis-response force to Spain for use by U.S. Africa Command. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP)
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The Marine Corps has begun deploying its new crisis-response force for Africa to an air base in Spain, and is now looking to develop a second force for use in the Caribbean Sea and Central and South America, said Commandant Gen. Jim Amos.
Six MV-22B Ospreys for the Africa unit departed Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., on Tuesday for Maine, to be staged on the way to Morón Air Base, Amos said during a Senate Appropriations hearing on Wednesday. The unit will include about 550 Marines and be constituted around a reinforced rifle company from II Marine Expeditionary Force, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. It will report to the head of U.S. Africa Command, Army Gen. David Rodriguez.
Amos told Congress that the new unit can train friendly foreign militaries, but its main function is to respond quickly in a time of crisis. The unit was conceived to cope with the kind of turmoil that has arisen during the past year in Mali, Algeria, Libya and other north African countries. Most famously, the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked in September by a heavily armed group, who killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other people.
Marine officials said the crisis-response unit will primarily be based out of Morón, but Amos also raised the possibility that it could eventually be placed somewhere in Africa if arrangements can be made by the State Department.
“Right now, they’re temporarily going to Morón, Spain, as a placeholder,” Amos said. “I think they are going to move sometime. It wouldn’t surprise me to find them moving around the African continent.”
Amos told Marine Corps Times after the congressional hearing that the new unit will be commanded by a colonel, who will have staff in Morón. It will likely deploy for about a year at a time for continuity’s sake, while the rank-and-file forces in the task force will rotate every six months. None of the tours will be accompanied, meaning Marines will not have their families join them in Spain.
Already, the Corps is looking to build a similar crisis-response force for use by Marine Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command. That unit likely won’t be quite as large, Amos said, but it will have a similar capability to respond to crises in the region.
“I’d personally like to see it out before the end of this calendar year,” Amos said. “We just have to wait to see how the resources work out.”
A Defense Department official said the U.S. considered several locations for the new force for Africa, including Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, where in 2011 the Corps established Special Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Africa. That force generally deploys in small teams to countries across Africa on a rotational basis, but focuses primarily on training. Ultimately, an agreement was reached with the Spanish government to base the crisis-response force at Morón, a sprawling air base about 75 miles from Naval Station Rota, Spain.
The new unit’s formation comes as the U.S. copes with a shortage of amphibious ships, from which Marines have frequently launched evacuation, rescue and humanitarian assistance missions in recent years. The force will have two KC-130J tanker planes to refuel the Ospreys in the air, extending the force’s reach without needing ships.
Top Marine officials have 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.