U.S. Marines have started to move a rapid reaction team of six tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft and 550 troops to Spain, the first shift of U.S. forces directly resulting from the September attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Gen. James Amos, commandant, told the Senate on Wednesday that the mission was underway, with MV-22 Ospreys (like the one pictured above, in training at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif.) staging in Maine before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Moron Air Base, Spain. Spain is a temporary location for the unit, which Amos said could rotate around Africa at the discretion of top commanders.
"If something happens, you now have an asset that you can move very quickly along with the C-130 tankers and the V-22s. You can move it very quickly in the Africa continent to respond to a crisis," Amos said in a hearing before Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
Amos said he did not know where the unit would be stationed permanently, but indicated they should expect be moved frequently.
"It wouldn't surprise me to find them moving around the Africa continent," he said.
Africa has rocketed to the forefront of national security concerns for Pentagon planners, who are focused on checking the spread of terrorist groups, drug trafficking, thin military relationships, and other destabilizing factors, while members of Congress in the past year mostly have focused on preventing another deadly Benghazi-like attack. Republicans, in particular, have criticized the Obama administration for leaving Africa Command short of funds, attention, and strategy.
Amos told the Senate that former AFRICOM commander Gen. Carter Ham had requested the response force that is en route this week in response to those concerns.
"Their job is to provide a crisis-response capability for the combatant commander," Amos said, referring to Africa Command's new commander, Gen. David Rodriguez.
It's the Pentagon's answer to one criticism of the U.S. response to the attack in Benghazi -- mostly from Congressional Republicans -- that the Obama administration left the Pentagon few viable options to help Americans under attack in North Africa.
This week, a report on Benghazi delivered to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, co-authored by five House GOP committee chairmen, argued the Benghazi attack was neither an intelligence nor a military failure, but rather a result of poor civilian leadership. Benghazi happened, the Republicans argued, because of "the lack of a coherent administration policy toward North Africa; an ad hoc and reactive administration strategy for addressing threats to U.S. interests in the region; a lack of resources for AFRICOM; and the short duration of the attack."
"The Department of Defense," they concluded, "was unable to provide an effective military response to the Benghazi attacks."
Furthermore, the House committee chairmen said that the military could not respond because AFRICOM did not maintain a Commander's in-Extremis Force (CIF).
"As a result, when the U.S. needed to respond swiftly to the attacks in Benghazi, the Defense Department did not task AFRICOM. Instead, it was forced to task EUCOM's CIF to respond, which was engaged in a training mission in Croatia," the chairmen wrote.
Those Marines in Europe that were supposed to be available to help in a moment's notice didn't have a ride to Libya.
"The Marine FAST platoon in Rota, Spain, was hindered in its response because it lacked dedicated airlift at its location; the airlift was in Germany. Even if the airlift had been co-located with the platoon, the platoon would not have been able to arrive in time to save the lives of the four Americans killed in the attack."
Until now, only limited special operations forces in the region were available as a crisis response force, Amos explained.
This new team is a new option.
"It'll have a Marine infantry company reinforced. It'll have signals, intelligence, CYBERCOM capabilities and logistics," Amos said, responding to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, the subcommittee's ranking member.
U.S. Marine Corps photo