Marines with Task Force Tripoli provide security aboard the U.S. Embassy in Libya's capital. (Marine Corps)
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When Marines in Tripoli, Libya, woke up on April 22, they learned that a car bomb had torn into the French Embassy, about a mile away, wounding two and rattling Westerners across the region.
The attack underscores the danger Marines face in fulfilling a new mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya’s capital. A reinforced platoon with Special Marine Air Ground Task Force – Africa was called on to protect the small diplomatic compound when they deployed in January, and are expected to remain there until their six-month tour ends.
Violence like the bombing at the French Embassy and the high-profile attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, last fall enter the Marines’ minds every day, said Lt. Col. Daniel Whisnant, commanding officer of SPMAGTF-Africa. In the latter incident, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other people were killed, leading some U.S. officials to question why Marines weren’t protecting the facility.
Since then, a plan has been established to expand the presence of Marine embassy security guards at U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world over the next several years. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli doesn’t have them, but the platoon — now known as Task Force Tripoli — stands post there in similar fashion to the way Marines do in Afghanistan, Whisnant said.
“We are an external security force,” he said. “We are outward looking. If there was any external threat, we would address that, with the embassy’s concurrence.”
It is just one mission that SPMAGTF-Africa has across Africa. The unit comprises about 150 personnel . About 30 percent is from 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, out of Garden City, N.Y., with the rest pulled from across the Marine Corps Reserve, Whisnant said. The command element is based at Naval Station Sigonella, Italy, with teams of Marines spread across Africa advising friendly militaries.
In Uganda and Burundi, teams of about 20 Marines each recently completed training with local militaries that are preparing for future threats. Both nations face a perilous peacekeeping mission in Somalia, where insurgents and other extremist fighters remain.
The forces from Uganda and Burundi work with the Marines on infantry tactics and on understanding ambushes, improvised explosive devices and other threats.
A platoon of Force Reconnaissance Marines with SPMAGTF-Africa recently arrived in Senegal, and will work with the country’s elite forces, Whisnant said. The Senegalese are known as Company Fusiliers Marine Commando.