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ARLINGTON, Va. — Gen. John Abizaid has ordered as many as 2,200 Marines into the Iraqi province of Al-Anbar, where fierce fighting has claimed at least 21 U.S. servicemembers this month.

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., will be sent in, according to Marine Capt. Danny Chung, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.

Chung did not know when those orders were given, he said, or how long the MEU will be asked to remain in Anbar.

The 15th MEU (SOC), part of Expeditionary Strike Group 5 aboard the USS Boxer, USS Dubuque and the USS Comstock, is currently deployed in the Western Pacific Region, according to the unit’s Web site.

Marines and sailors attached to the unit recently participated in Exercise Shatrujeet 06 with the Indian army for almost two weeks.

A MEU typically has about 2,200 Marines split into four elements: a battalion landing group; an air wing with Harrier jump jets, Cobra helicopters, and other aircraft; a Marine Logistics Group; and a command element.

But Chung told Stripes on Thursday that he could not discuss the exact number of Marines going into Iraq “for operational security reasons.”

Nor could he say where the unit will be stationed, or when it will arrive.

“They’ll be going into Al-Anbar Province,” Chung said. “Once they’re in the region, we’ll do a press release with more information, but in the meantime, I can’t forecast their location or confirm numbers.”

There are now 141,000 U.S. troops on the ground, not including the MEU, a Defense official said.

“Once [the Marines] get dry feet, those numbers will increase,” he said.

During his appearance before the Senate on Wednesday, Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, stated that the province “is not under control” but that Marines have been making progress there.

He also dismissed suggestions by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that commanders need to focus as much attention on that region as they are in Baghdad.

“I believe that you can’t have a main effort everywhere … and right now it’s Baghdad,” he said.

Also Wednesday, Abizaid repeatedly said that the solution requires more Iraqi troops, not more U.S. troops.

“I believe more American forces prevent Iraqi forces from doing more,” he said in Wednesday’s testimony.

On Thursday, a senior Defense official said Abizaid’s comments on troop levels stand, but the extra Marines are needed to deal with “an immediate security concern.”

Stripes reporters Leo Shane III and Jeff Schogol contributed to this report from Washington.


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