After fanning out across the Indian Ocean, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit converged to launch a full-scale amphibious landing exercise off the coast of Djibouti last week in the Gulf of Aden.
The monthlong training event — dubbed "Alligator Dagger" — puts the entire 2,400-strong air-ground task force to work, honing its ability to quickly respond to unfolding crises in the tumultuous region and reassure America's allies.
"We can use small teams or the whole force; we can travel vast distances, hit multiple objectives, and we can do it all from the sea, day or night," Col. Clay Tipton, 11th MEU commander, said in a statement.
"We can bring hope to our partners and allies, or destruction to our enemies," he said.
The Marines are operating from the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group — the amphibious assault ship Makin Island, the dock landing ship Comstock and amphibious transport dock Somerset — which entered the Navy's 5th Fleet area of operations on Nov. 30.
In addition to amphibious assaults, the Marines will maneuver tanks and light armored vehicles, coordinate strikes with the MEU's aircraft, run tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel drills and practice visit, board, search and seizure operations, known as VBSS operations.
The training will better enable the 11th MEU to serve as an expeditionary quick reaction force throughout its time on station in the area.
"The issues in the Horn of Africa region are sadly almost too numerous to address in a single article,"
said Michael Connell, director of the Iranian Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses.
He pointed to Sunni jihadist groups, failed states, the ongoing civil war in Yemen with an Iran-backed Houthi insurgency, piracy, migration and weapons flows as all contributing to regional instability.
The Marines' presence, however, will go a long way toward reassuring regional partners, mainly the Gulf States, and deterring potential adversaries — notably Iran.
"One of our major concerns is Iranian weapons shipments to Houthi rebels, and our Navy has played a role in intercepting those shipments," Connell said in an interview.
"[In addition to VBSS operations,] we can put boots on the ground very quickly if the need arises,"