Pentagon moves Benghazi unit closer to Libya, not for Syria

With security deteriorating in Tripoli, Libya, the U.S. has shifted several dozen U.S. Marines and assault aircraft of the rapid response force that just arrived in Spain eastward to Sigonella, Italy. The Pentagon’s spokesman called the move a precautionary measure but would not say it was directly tied to Tripoli, which foreign diplomats and oil ...

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

With security deteriorating in Tripoli, Libya, the U.S. has shifted several dozen U.S. Marines and assault aircraft of the rapid response force that just arrived in Spain eastward to Sigonella, Italy.

The Pentagon's spokesman called the move a precautionary measure but would not say it was directly tied to Tripoli, which foreign diplomats and oil companies recently have begun evacuating. On Monday a car bomb reportedly exploded outside a hospital in Benghazi, killing 10 people.

The shift to Naval Station Signoella marks the first assignment for the response force -- a group of 550 Marines and six MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which only arrived at Moron Air Base two weeks ago. A defense official told the E-Ring that the number of personnel moved from Moron totaled "less than 100."

With security deteriorating in Tripoli, Libya, the U.S. has shifted several dozen U.S. Marines and assault aircraft of the rapid response force that just arrived in Spain eastward to Sigonella, Italy.

The Pentagon’s spokesman called the move a precautionary measure but would not say it was directly tied to Tripoli, which foreign diplomats and oil companies recently have begun evacuating. On Monday a car bomb reportedly exploded outside a hospital in Benghazi, killing 10 people.

The shift to Naval Station Signoella marks the first assignment for the response force — a group of 550 Marines and six MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which only arrived at Moron Air Base two weeks ago. A defense official told the E-Ring that the number of personnel moved from Moron totaled "less than 100."

Call them the Benghazi Unit. Officially dubbed Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response, the unit was created specifically as the Pentagon’s answer to congressional criticism that troops were not available in Europe or Africa to respond quickly enough to the September 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans.

The unit falls under Africa Command’s purview and Marine Corps Commandant Jim Amos told Congress to expect they will be moving around Africa.

Previously the U.S. shored up embassy security in Tripoli with a 150-member platoon from Special Marine Air Ground Task Force – Africa.

The E-Ring has heard some Pentagon staff speculation that having the new rapid-response force for AFRICOM frees up similar troops under European Command to respond, if needed, to any unrest from the Syrian conflict.

Pentagon press secretary George Little, on Monday, scoffed at that suggestion.

"I’m not going to get into the specific of our response — or our potential response — but we are prepared if necessary to respond to security conditions throughout the region," he said.

How far eastward does "the region" stretch, in this case?

"What I would say, I guess — and read between the lines here, it won’t be that hard — is that, I think, the secretary and the president have been very clear that boots on the ground options in Syria are not likely."

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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