U.S. Marines from Morón, Spain, have been moved to the U.S. base in Sigonella, Italy, to station more forces closer to Egypt as a response to the events happening there.
There is a sentiment among many in politics that America can pull back its global presence, cut the military, and try to solve our domestic economic and fiscal crises. Nevertheless, the attack in Benghazi, rising terrorist cells throughout the Middle East and Africa, and now the impending tipping point in Egypt all signify that the world has not become a safer place just because we want to withdraw from it.
These Marine units were stood up in response to the attack on the Benghazi last September. The two Mediterranean locations stood up Marine task forces over the past year that can rapidly respond to a variety of crises. The Morón task force consists of around 550 Marines, a handful of V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to rapidly deploy them when necessary, and a few C-130 refueling and logistical aircraft. At Naval Air Station Sigonella, around 120 Marines were stationed earlier this year to train African military personnel as well as maintain proximity to the volatile northern Africa region. While both task forces are relatively small, they do provide the U.S. with a relatively constant presence in a high state of readiness.
In addition to these forces, a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in the Red Sea has been put on high alert, according to The Washington Times. This unit comprises three amphibious vessels, numerous Marine aircraft, and over 2,000 personnel. MEUs were established to provide rapid, mobile operations for the Marine Corps that can quickly sail to wherever the service is needed.
While the task forces and the MEU are currently providing a robust response force in the region, it is unclear how much longer the President and the nation can rely on the Marine Corps to be capable of continuing such forward-deployed missions in a high state of readiness. Personnel will be stretched increasingly thin as sequestration and previous defense cuts may lead to a reduction of more than 20,000 Marines. Marine Commandant General James Amos has warned that reductions beyond this point would create serious risk for his service.
Amos has also consistently warned that the Marine Corps will struggle to execute its missions because the Navy’s fleet of amphibious ships—from which the Marines embark—is below what is required. The Marine Corps has stated that 38 amphibious vessels are required to effectively deploy three Marine Expeditionary Brigades. However, due to budget constraints, the service has accepted that it can operate with 33 amphibs. When it became clear that this benchmark would not be met, the Marines said they can still effectively operate two MEBs with just 30 ships.
Even that reduced requirement is currently not being met. The fleet recently fell to 28 vessels. Under sequestration, old ships will be decommissioned faster than new ones will set sail, causing the fleet to fall further. The Marines have already accepted some risk; Congress should not allow them to suffer more.
If the Administration and Congress expect to keep relying on the military to protect American people and interests abroad, they need to show a stronger commitment to them. While it is the Marines’ responsibility to be the first responders overseas, it is the responsibility of our government to provide for the common defense.