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Winnefeld: Army should also consider crisis response units

Sep. 13, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
US Consulate Attack In Benghazi
A vehicle and surrounding buildings smolder after they were set on fire inside the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. The Marine Corps has stood up forward-deployed crisis response units as a way to rapidly deploy to a variety of crises, including reinforcement missions and humanitarian assistance. (AFP via Getty Images)
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The Army should consider establishing forward-deployed crisis-response units similar to the Marine Corps’ instead of ceding that mission entirely, a top military official said.

Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the crisis-response mission has taken on greater urgency in light of recent world events.

“I would say that I’d like to see the Army place more emphasis on the growth industry of the national security interest of protecting American citizens abroad; don’t yield that entirely to the Marine Corps,” he said.

The comments are unlikely to be popular in the Corps, which has claimed crisis response as its own mission. Commandant Gen. Jim Amos frequently refers to the service as the United States’ premier 9-1-1 force, and he has expressed significant interest in the Corps expanding its crisis-response capabilities in the last year.

In April, the Corps deployed a new crisis-response force set aside for crises in Africa. It includes about 550 Marines, and is constituted around a reinforced rifle company from II Marine Expeditionary Force, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. It is supported by six MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and two KC-130J aerial refuelers. It deployed to Morón, Spain, and has, at times, had elements on standby in Sigonella, Italy. It reports to Gen. David Rodriguez, chief of U.S. Africa Command.

Additional Marine crisis-response forces are eyed for use by U.S. Central Command and U.S. Southern Command. The SOUTHCOM force will be established soon and respond to security challenges and humanitarian emergencies in the Caribbean and Central and South Americas. Brig. Gen. David Coffman, commander of Marine Corps Forces South, told Marine Corps Times the U.S. could be just one earthquake or a few missteps away from a bad situation occurring in its own backyard.

“Although we’re not on edge for crisis response or embassy support ... like we’ve seen in west North Africa or the Middle East — it could happen here, too,” he said.

The CENTCOM force appears to be earlier in development. In April, Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, then the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, said the concept would be similar to the one for Africa.

“I think it’s a response to an increased requirement,” Mills said. “You’ve got three [Marine expeditionary units] out on the water right now, but they’re busy doing other things.”

The new crisis-response forces join the list of Marine units capable of responding to U.S. emergencies abroad. The service continues to train and deploy Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams to reinforce U.S. facilities abroad as needed and also trains Marine expeditionary units deployed aboard Navy ships to handle crises.

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