A Marine crisis-response team has deployed additional aircraft to Sicily as it awaits orders for a possible evacuation of American officials in Libya.
Seven Ospreys and three KC-130s from an air base in Spain have been positioned at U.S. Naval Air Station Sigonella, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters Tuesday. Another Osprey would soon be arriving, the Pentagon said.
About 180 Marines and sailors with the team were moved last week with six aircraft from Morón Air Base in Spain; there are now 250 Marines there. The move was in response to growing concerns over militia battles in northern Libya and their proximity to Americans at the embassy in Tripoli. Several countries, including Saudi Arabia and Algeria, have already closed their diplomatic missions in Tripoli.
Kirby said there have been no requests for assistance from the Marines in Sigonella. But if called on to help with evacuations of U.S. diplomatic personnel or other requirements, he said the team is “in a posture and in a location that should they be needed in North Africa, specifically Libya, that they would be ready to do so.”
“We’re watching the situation very, very closely,” Kirby added. “The unrest, the violence there are certainly troubling to all of us in the Defense Department. And again, this was a prudent, precautionary measure.”
Created in the wake of the 2012 attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, the crisis-response team has been mobilized periodically as threats arise in Africa. The team took part in embassy evacuations in South Sudan last year.
The battles in Libya come after fighters loyal to a former regime general and later rebel leader attacked Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi and the parliament in Tripoli. The general, Khalifa Heftar, has long opposed the Islamist groups that have dominated the country’s east since the 2011 ouster of the Moammar Gadhafi regime.
One of those groups, Ansar al-Sharia, is believed to be responsible for the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed four Americans at the U.S. facility in Benghazi, including ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Other militias and groups have mobilized and vowed support for each side since the fighting began on Friday, leading to concerns that the violence is more serious than the skirmishes common between groups in recent years.