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Marines sent to Italy as unrest grows in North Africa

By Jamie Crawford, CNN
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Wed May 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Just under 200 Marines head to base in southern Italy
  • The move is a contingency due to deteriorating security situation in North Africa
  • It is not related to the kidnapping of schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Nigeria

(CNN) -- A group of Marines trained in crisis-rapid response are moving to a base in southern Italy due to concerns over continuing unrest in northern Africa, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

"We are doing this as a contingency because we believe the security situation in North Africa is deteriorating to a point where there could be threats," Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters. "They will be there until we are satisfied that there is a little bit less unrest in the region."

Just under 200 Marines from the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response unit based in Moron, Spain, were moved to the Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily this week at the request of the State Department, according to Defense officials.

"This is part of our new normal," Warren said, "where we have added flexibility to combatant commanders and given them the ability to move forces around and have ready forces available in case of regional contingencies."

In addition to the Marines, there were two KC-130s and four MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft that were also part of the forward deployment to Signoella.

While the focus of the mission is to be ready to react to the current threat environment emanating from northern Africa, the force would be ready to deploy to nearby Yemen where Yemeni forces are trying to dismantle the most lethal of al Qaeda's affiliate groups.

"The focus is unquestionably the protection of embassies no question about it, but it's a contingency force," Warren told reporters. "These are United States Marines capable of conducting any mission given to them."

Two American personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, killed two armed militants last month who had attempted to kidnap them CNN reported earlier this week.

There was also considerable criticism over the lack of any military rapid response leveled at the Obama administration following the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed.

The Pentagon says the move is unrelated to the operation underway in Nigeria to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram. Officials continue to maintain there is no intention to put American forces inside Nigeria for the purposes of a rescue effort.

The Marines deployed to Sicily are part of an approximate force of 800 based in Moron, and trained to mobilize quickly in response to a variety of crises in the region.

The unit assisted in the evacuation of U.S. embassy personnel in South Sudan last year as the security situation in the country deteriorated.

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