A Marine with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa and a Burundian soldier practice land navigation in March 2012. A new iteration of SPMAGTF Africa is now operating in Africa, but Commandant Gen. Jim Amos envisions a larger, rapidly employable SPMAGTF in the region to handle crisis response needs for combatant commanders. (Cpl. Jad Sleiman / Marine Corps)
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The Marine Corps is developing a new force to help combatant commanders handle a variety of crises, including reinforcement missions and humanitarian assistance, the commandant said.
Gen. Jim Amos told Marine Corps Times on Monday that the service is looking at theaters "where there is the greatest need." He declined to identify the theaters, but said one combatant commander is very interested.
"We can do this," Amos said after delivering a speech at the Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium in Washington. "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 crisis-response unit would be considered a special purpose Marine air-ground task force, with personnel from the Corps' ground combat, aviation and logistics communities. It would be a separate entity from SPMAGTF-Africa, Amos said. That unit is based out of Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, frequently deploying 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.
"It could be crisis response. It could be reinforcement. It could be humanitarian assistance. It could be training and advising," Amos said of the new unit in development. "And, it's bigger than what we have on the ground in Sigonella."
Turmoil in Mali, Algeria, Libya and other countries in northern Africa raise the question whether it could be used there. In December, Amos raised the possibility in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine.
"If this part of the world is going to stay problematic, then how do you address it," Amos said in comments published Dec. 10. "Do you have to address it with large, huge forces? I don't think so. But you gotta address it. So what we're going to do is built a rapidly employable — not deployable, because they'll already be there — rapidly employable force that can help the combatant commanders out, and we're working on that right now, and I think we'll have that in the next 30 days."
The Corps has filled a variety of missions in Africa this year. Elements of SPMAGTF-Africa are currently reinforcing the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya's capital, said Capt. Lauren Schultz, a spokeswoman for the command. She declined additional comment about the mission, but the unit comprises mostly Marines with 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, a reserve unit out of Garden City, N.Y.
The U.S. also continues to use Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams in the region. The platoon-size Marine units reinforce embassies and other U.S. facilities abroad in times of crisis. A FAST platoon out of Naval Station Rota, Spain, was sent to Tripoli in September, around the time that four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, were killed at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Another FAST platoon, out of Naval Support Activity Bahrain, was sent to Yemen in September during widespread protests across North Africa and the Middle East. It was replaced at the start of the new year by a second FAST platoon.
Over the past few years, FAST platoons also have been called on to reinforce U.S. interests in Kyrgyzstan, Egyptand Haiti, said then-Lt. Gen. John Paxton at the Ground Dinner in Arlington, Va., on Nov. 29. Paxton has since become the four-star assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.