Senegalese marine commandos and U.S. Marines conduct training in September. Many African nations are open to a greater U.S. presence in their countries. (Sgt. Marco Mancha/Marine Corps)
A move to relocate the Marine Corps’ crisis response unit from Europe to a nation in western Africa may be completed within the next two years, Marine Corps brass said last week.
Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, created last April in the wake of the terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, operates out of Morón, Spain. But Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos told a crowd at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Expo on April 7 that officials are working to get the unit closer to potential crises.
“If you drop straight down to the Gulf of Guinea, this is where we hope to be sometime within the next year or two,” he said. “There’s a great need, as you look at the Gulf of Guinea and you go east — that part of central and south Africa — if something happens in that part of the world, then it will be very difficult for U.S. forces to get down there.”
Later in the week, Maj. Gen. Raymond Fox, commander of Marine Corps Forces Africa , expanded on these plans, saying that the Marine Corps had specific countries in mind that might be able to host the unit in the future.
“It would certainly be ideal, assuming that Africa is important to the U.S., assuming that there’s going to be instability problems in Africa, that we very slowly start ... operating in places like Senegal, and maybe a little farther south,” he said. “I’m not going to name any countries ... but there’s places we’re looking at, and the governments are supportive, and the U.S. State Department is warming up to the idea, and we will over time [secure] places we can operate out of to get closer to the problem.”
While there are some Marines in Liberia, he said, that country is not geographically the right location for the mission.
Other countries in the region include Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone; another seven countries surround the Gulf of Guinea.
Fox told Marine Corps Times he saw the timeline for such a move possibly stretching five or more years into the future as the U.S. worked with African nations to secure the agreements and permissions necessary. Talk of a base in western Africa, he said, is still early.
“Everyone gets really concerned about the ‘B’ word, because that’s a whole government thing,” he said. “So we’re never talking about that. We’re just talking about getting used to going places.”
As part of that strategy, Fox said, SP-MAGTF Africa, based in Sigonella, Italy, would increase use of MV-22 Ospreys in theater security missions, and work to help nations in the region get used to seeing Marines and their equipment.
“Next time we’re going down to Senegal to do that work, we’re going to fly them down there in V-22s. So what we get out of it is, they see V-22s, we give the ambassador a ride, their chief of defense a ride, they’re happy. So the next time they see us, they say, ‘Hey, OK.’ ”
The building of these trust relationships, he said, would not take place overnight.
“This is going to take a long time to get everybody sensitized,” he said. “But we’ve made great strides.”
The 800-strong SP-MAGTF Crisis Response, with a complement of V-22s and KC-130J Super Hercules heavy lift aircraft, has demonstrated its mettle in a handful of crises in its 12 months of existence. Most notably, the unit was called into Juba, South Sudan, in December to evacuate a U.S. embassy amid deteriorating security conditions.
Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. John Paxton pointed out last week that, even with midair refueling and a quick response force, it took more than 15 hours for Marines with the unit to fly from Morón to a forward position in Entebbe, Uganda, in anticipation of the evacuation mission.■