The Marine Corps is ending its crisis response deployments developed after the 2012 attack on the Benghazi, Libya.
The final deployment as part of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, or SPMAGTF-CR-CC, ended in October 2021, Capt. Ryan Bruce, a Marine Corps spokesman, told Marine Corps Times on Friday.
It “will not be replaced by another rotational Marine Air Ground Task Force,” Bruce said.
At its height, the Marine Corps had three congruent special purpose Marine air-ground task forces on crisis response missions to Southern Command, Africa Command and Central Command ― but the Corps’ new focus on a potential fight with China may have killed the crisis response formation.
‘America’s 9-1-1 force’
The formation was first created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack by Islamist extremists on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
The roughly 2,000 Marine strong SPMAGTF-CR-CC was composed of Marine ground and air units spread across the Middle East as a do-it-all rapid response force ready to reinforce embassies or launch sorties against Islamic State targets in the region.
The SPMAGTF was called on in 2021 when Marines from 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, were sent from the Central Command deployment to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul amid the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
During the deployment, 11 Marines, one Navy Corpsman and one soldier were killed by a suicide bomber. Nine of the Marines who died were part of the SPMAGTF-CR-CC.
Marines from SPMAGTF-CR-CC reinforced the Baghdad embassy in late 2019 after Iraqi protesters supportive of an Iran-backed Shiite militia attempted to storm the compound.
Shortly after deploying to Central Command the Marine Corps sent the new formation to Africa Command and Southern Command with forces tailored for specific regional needs.
Based out of Moron Air Base in Spain, SPMAGTF-CR-Africa Command quietly was shut down in the fall of 2021 Stars and Stripes reported, while budget cuts ended SPMAGTF-CR-Southern Command.
“The realignment of resources and removal of a dedicated rotational force (SPMAGTF-SC) from USSOUTHCOM was based on national and service competing priorities,” Maj. J.A. Hernandez, a Marine Corps spokesman, told Marine Corps Times in June 2021.
The Marine Corps’ budget request for 2022 said the Corps would be able to save $3 million a year by cutting out the deployment, money that could be focused on funding Force Design 2030 and the Corps’ pivot to focusing on China.
The deployment would not be the first asset the Marine Corps scrapped as Commandant Gen. David Berger focuses on divesting from legacy items to reinvest in new weapons and platforms.
In 2021 the Corps scrapped its tank units and started reducing its number of infantry battalions.
“We, all of us, love the things we are getting rid of,” Berger said at the 2020 virtual Modern Day Marine expo held from Quantico, Virginia. “We have to make hard decisions about what we must retain.”
But not all are happy about what the Corps is giving up.
Bing West, a retired Marine colonel who had fought as a grunt in Vietnam and the assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, told Marine Corps Times in a Friday phone call, “I strongly suspect that the Central Command basically said, ‘We want a MAGTF out here.’”
“I can’t imagine that they said, ‘Let’s do away with it,’” West added.
West most recently is the author of “The Last Platoon: A Novel of the Afghanistan War,” which won the 2022 Marine Corps Heritage Foundation fiction award.
A request for comment from Central Command had not been answered at press time.
The Marine Corps still will be able to support Central Command despite ending the deployment, Bruce said.
“Marine Corps forces are still assigned to U.S. Central Command and have and will deploy episodically to meet combatant commander requirements,” Bruce said.
“The United States Marine Corps will continue to deploy around the globe to train and operate alongside our joint and combined partners,” he said.
“Marines will always provide rapid response capability and serve as America’s 9-1-1 force.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to say that the Marine Corps ended its final Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command deployment in October 2021, not started.