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US crisis response Marines mobilized for north Africa threat

U.S. Marines from Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response board an MV-22B Osprey at Moron Air Base, Spain, May 13, 2014. The Marines were headed for Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, in response to security concerns in northern Africa.

STUTTGART, Germany — A team of crisis response Marines has moved from Spain to a U.S. base in southern Italy in response to new security concerns in northern Africa, according to U.S. European Command.

About 180 Marines and sailors, along with two KC130s and four Ospreys, were moved Tuesday to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, military officials said. The base is a strategic launching pad that offers quick access to potential hot spots in northern Africa. The team is ready to respond if needed to undisclosed security concerns at U.S. installations in the region, military officials said.

“The contingent was moved because we have concerns about the security situation in North Africa,” said Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, EUCOM spokesman. “I can’t get into specific intelligence, but the security situation in North Africa warranted this precautionary move.”

Pentagon officials declined to specify the nature of the threat, but a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters the concerns centered on Libya.

The Morón, a Spain-based Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response unit, formed last year in the wake of the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, is mobilized periodically in connection with potential threats in Africa. The unit took part in embassy evacuation efforts in South Sudan last year.

The latest alert comes at a time when there are security concerns stretching from Mali, where French forces have been fighting Islamic militants, to Nigeria, where U.S. military personnel are assisting in the search for girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram regional terrorist group.

By moving Marines to Sigonella, the troops are now a short flight from Libya, where there also has been widespread concern over Islamic militants taking root there. In Yemen last week, the U.S. suspended operations at its embassy, citing security concerns. Last month, U.S. officials killed two armed Yemenis who were trying to kidnap them, The New York Times reported.

In March, the Defense Department announced it would boost its presence in Spain, adding more Marines to the MAGTF, which was slated to grow from 500 to 850 Marines.

Hicks said military and State Department officials elected to position the Marines in Sicily “to be prepared to protect U.S. personnel and facilities in U.S. installations in North Africa.”

“Given their commitment to protecting the men and women who serve our embassies around the world and out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Department of Defense, in coordination and consultation with the Department of State, is positioning resources in the region in the event they are needed in the future,” Hicks said.

vandiver.john@stripes.com

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