An AV-8B Harrier assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadon 266, (Reinforced), descends onto the flight deck of the USS Kearsarge as an MV-22B Osprey prepares to takeoff, at sea, May 27, 2013. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force forward-deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility aboard the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group serving as a sea-based, expeditionary crisis response force capable of conducting amphibious operations across the full range of military operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Christopher Q. Stone/Released) (Sgt. Christopher Q. Stone / U.S. Marines)
Marines in the Middle East, Africa and Europe are poised to reach Syria within hours should President Obama order a strike on the country as officials work to determine whether the government there was involved in a chemical weapons attack against its own people.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told BBC television Tuesday that the Defense Department has “moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take.”
The Corps has units forward-deployed to the region to deal specifically with crisis response missions, said Capt. Eric Flanagan, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon. But so far, none have been directed to prepare for a specific mission or deployment, he said.
The various units are there for this type of reason, Flanagan added, and they include the following capabilities:
■ 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. MEUs typically number about 2,200 Marines and sailors. They operate at sea from Navy amphibious ships and carry infantry, aviation and logistics capabilities. The 26th MEU is distributed among the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge, the amphibious transport dock San Antonio and the amphibious dock landing ship Carter Hall. The Kearsarge is in the United Arab Emirates, southeast of Syria. The Carter Hall was in the Seychelles, off the coast of Africa. And the San Antonio, is in the Gulf of Aden, just south of Syria.
■ Special-Purpose Marine air-ground task force Crisis Response. The Corps’ newest type of unit, the Special-Purpose MAGTF operates like a smaller-sized MEU, but is based on land and operates largely independent of the Navy. The Crisis Response Force deployed to the region is made up of about 550 Marines. Most of the Marines are at Morón Air Base in Spain. A small detachment is based at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy. The force is built around a reinforced rifle company and is supported by six MV-22B Ospreys and two KC-130J aerial refuelers.
■ Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Teams. The Marine Corps has four FAST teams deployed to the region — two in U.S. Africa Command and two in Europe Command, Flanagan said. Typically used to respond to threats to embassy security, FAST teams are made up of about 50 Marines who can be called up by combatant commanders in the region to protect vital naval and national assets.
■ 13th MEU. Marines and sailors with the 13th MEU departed from California on Friday. They are headed to the Middle East and North Africa for a six month deployment.
Also in the region are members of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 234. Members of VMGR-234 deployed to Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, in June. The Marines have been tasked with refueling not only U.S. aircraft, but also aircraft from allied countries, according to a Marine Corps news release. The squadron recently took part in aerial refueling missions to provide fuel in the air for the Moroccan air force.
Flanagan said the forward deployed units are always ready to respond to missions, and are prepared to do so in Syria if ordered. For now, they haven’t been given “prepare to deploy” orders, he said.
“Alert postures change — they go up and down — but we don’t have any details on any change in the last 48 hours,” Flanagan said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.