Roughly 2,500 Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit have entered the Red Sea, joining thousands of other U.S. troops sent to the region amid high tensions between the U.S. and Iran, Navy officials confirmed Monday.
The move, first reported by USNI, follows the Dec. 31, 2019, attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, and the subsequent killing of revered Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
By entering into the Red Sea, the MEU has officially entered the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, Cmdr. Joshua Frey confirmed to Marine Corps Times in an email Monday.
The 5th Fleet area of operations extends into the Persian Gulf, and the MEU may move into the region to be nearer to Iraq in case violence once again erupts in the country.
Having the Department of State Liaison Element "in the MEU’s ‘hip pocket’ rapidly expedites planning and coordination in a crisis moment."
The MEU is a Marine air-ground task force deployed to be a quick reaction force ready for crisis response. The 26th MEU is one of seven MEUs in the Corps, according to the Marines’ website.
Though the immediate crisis with Iran seems to have passed, the rising tit-for-tat attacks between the U.S. and Iran and its proxies in early January caused the 26th MEU to cancel a planned exercise with the Moroccan military and dash across the Mediterranean Sea to join an ongoing troop buildup in the Middle East.
In addition to the MEU, the U.S. sent 100 Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force–Crisis Response–Central Command to reinforce the embassy, and roughly 4,000 soldiers to the Middle East.
The Red Sea is not unfamiliar to the 26th MEU.
In 2018 the unit loitered in the area, prepped for potential violence caused by the U.S. Embassy’s move from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Jerusalem, Marine Corps Times previously reported.
The MEU is comprised of Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, Combat Logistics Battalion 26 and the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365, all based in North Carolina and deployed from the East Coast in December 2019.
The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship Bataan is the lead ship of an amphibious ready group that includes the the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock New York and Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship Oak Hill, and hosting the MEU.