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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon is drawing up plans for the deployment of 2,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune to Haiti if called upon by President Bush, to assist a possible evacuation from the troubled Caribbean island.

Marine and Army officers confirmed that Pentagon planners are developing contingency plans to send the Marines off the coast of Haiti. The decision to actually deploy the forces would be made by the Bush administration.

“There’s a lot of traffic on the classified side of the house” regarding sending Marines to the coast of Haiti, a Marine officer said.

If Marines were asked to respond to Haiti, “logic would dictate” that it would be a Marine Expeditionary Force — specifically, the 24th” Marine Expeditionary Unit, the Marine officer said.

“If you are asking if our force providers are in a heightened state of alert [regarding Haiti], the answer is ‘yes,’” Steve Lucas, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command, said in a Friday telephone interview.

However, “our policies prohibit discussing contingency plans,” or identifying the precise nature of those “force providers,” Lucas said.

NBC News first reported that Bush was considering sending in Marines, citing “government officials.”

Meanwhile, the Navy “is exploring many different options” in the President requests a mission to Haiti, a Navy official at the Pentagon said Friday.

Among the options the Navy is looking at is sending all or part of an Expeditionary Strike Group, which includes an MEU with 2,000 Marines, carried on three amphibious ships. Cruisers, destroyers, frigates and submarines also are options within an ESG.

Which elements of the ESG might be sent “depends on the mission,” the official said.

Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind, a Pentagon spokeswoman, also said Friday that she could neither confirm nor deny that Marines, or the 24th MEU specifically, are being considered for an operation in Haiti.

Army officials in the Pentagon said Friday they had not heard of any discussions involving soldiers in a potential Haiti mission.

“I know they’re talking about Marines, but I haven’t heard a peep about Army,” an Army officer familiar with current operations planning said Friday morning. “Not even a smidgen of a peep.”

“Any time quick-reaction forces are needed, the usual move is to turn to a MEU,” the Marine officer said, because MEUs are designed specifically for a wide spectrum of sea-based, crisis-response, quick-react missions, from port and airfield seizures, to noncombat evacuations.

The 24th, meanwhile, is one of three MEUs that make up the bulk of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

According to Marine Corps doctrine, as spelled out in “Marine Corps Concepts and Programs 2004,” the II MEF is the organization that Marine Corps leaders have set aside to be tapped by the U.S. Southern Command if there is ever a need for a military mission in SOUTHCOM’s area of responsibility, which includes Haiti.

But II MEF also is available to respond to contingency requirements worldwide, and in fact its 22nd MEU is now on its way to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

That leaves the 24th MEU, “which just stood up” and is prepared to deploy on short notice, and the 26th MEU, “which is in a down status — they don’t even have their battalions assigned to them,” the officer said.

Military services designate such “force providers” for a given geographical region because combatant commanders, like SOUTHCOM’s Gen. James Hill don’t have their own forces assigned on a permanent basis.

“We’re watching the situation, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security are watching the situation,” Lucas said.

“We’re prepared to respond with alacrity if called.”


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