The Pentagon has sent Marines and warplanes to Italy because of a possible crisis brewing in North Africa. The troops left their base in Spain after receiving a request from the State Department.
The Pentagon did not say where the potential threat was specifically, but other reports point to Libya.
“We’re doing this as a contingency because we believe that the security situation in North Africa is deteriorating to a point where there could be threats,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
The deployed Marines are part of a task force designed to respond to attacks on Americans abroad. The unit stood up last year in the aftermath of the now infamous terrorist attack in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.
The force in Sicily consists of some 200 personnel and six aircraft—including four MV-22 Ospreys pictured below. The unique tilt-rotor aircraft could speed the Marines across the Mediterranean on short notice.
The U.S. isn’t saying there’s a specific and imminent danger to Americans in Libya. Instead, the Pentagon is concerned about a more generalized collapse of law and order. Instability and violence has plagued the North African nation since a rebel coalition ousted former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Militias and terrorists operate with near impunity and regularly menace the weak central government. Last month, gunmen kidnapped former Prime Minister Ali Zidan last fall and broke into the country’s parliament.
Libyan officials and infrastructure aren’t the only targets. Militants often use foreigners to settle scores.
Gunmen abducted four Egyptian diplomats earlier this year after security forces detained a prominent militia leader. Insurgents released Jordan’s ambassador on May 13 in a prisoner swap.
Americans could also become retaliatory targets. The U.S. and its allies are training Libya’s army. Navy SEALs stopped rebels from stealing a tanker full of oil in March.
Washington might be worried about the ghost of Benghazi as well. The House of Representatives recently decided to form a new select committee to investigate the raid on the consulate.
Numerous reviews, hearings and briefings on the events have already generated some 25,000 pages of documents. Critics say the Obama administration did not do everything in their power to protect the Americans in Benghazi and may have tried to cover it up.
Whatever the case, the Marines in Italy are in a great position if there is an actual emergency in Libya again any time soon.
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