Marine Corps Task Force Uses Ospreys for Crisis Response (UPDATED)
If an event such as the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, were to occur today, a Marine Corps crisis response force could be called to secure government installations and help evacuate personnel, a senior official said.
The service historically has provided security to U.S. facilities in foreign countries, but the Benghazi events led last year to the establishment of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground task Force Crisis Response, said Col. Scott Benedict, former commander of the task force.
“In the past, we may have been focused in a completely different area, and then all of a sudden a crisis occurred and then we would respond. Now we’re thinking ahead of time on what are those areas that we might need to respond to before the crisis,” he said Feb. 10 at the Atlantic Council, in Washington, D.C. Benedict is currently the commander of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The crisis response force includes about 550 Marines, six V-22 Osprey tiltrotors and two KC-130J tankers. The V-22 is favored for its speed and ability to land vertically, while the KC-130’s can function both as a transport and aerial refueling aircraft. This allowed the force to quickly move over extended ranges, Benedict said.
“What you’ve really done, particularly in a place like Africa, is you’ve greatly expanded the area and the envelope that you can operate in,” he said.
The force was tested in January, when it was called to evacuate personnel from the U.S. embassy in Juba, South Sudan, after fighting broke out between the two main ethnic groups in the country. Marines flew in a KC-130 from Entebbe, Uganda, and transported 20 Americans.
The Marine Corps is encountering a “new normal” as political, religious, or social crises cause rapid changes in the security landscape, Benedict said. An example of one such event is the Arab Spring, which started in Tunisia and quickly affected other countries in the region.
The crisis response force specializes in embassy reinforcement, site security, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel and non-combatant evacuations and support, Benedict said.
The Marine Corps coordinates with the State Department, regional embassy staff and foreign countries to try to better predict when regional instability could threaten U.S. citizens and facilities, Benedict said.
Over the course of its deployment to Moron, Spain, the force trained with foreign military services such as the Spanish marines and army, the French Foreign Legion and a number of African countries.
Such cooperation allowed the crisis response force to practice V-22 operations, aerial refueling and ground combat in larger spaces than it would otherwise have access to, Benedict said.
It also coordinated with other Marine Corps forces in Africa to conduct mock embassy evacuation exercises, he said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Col. Scott Benedict as commander of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.