US Marines in Spain, Italy remain on heightened alert

Marines with the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force participate in training in this June 2012 photo.



WASHINGTON — About 500 crisis-response Marines who recently deployed to Italy and Spain are positioned to respond to the brewing chaos in Egypt.

Pentagon spokesman George Little wouldn’t speak about Egypt or the U.S. Embassy in Cairo specifically, but said the military was postured for response in that region in particular.

“We have taken steps to ensure our military is ready to respond to a range of contingencies,” he said.

Egypt is edging towards collapse as protests swell and time runs out on the Egyptian army’s 48-hour ultimatum issued Monday, that President Mohamed Morsi forge a compromise with the opposition or face military intervention. Increasingly violent protesters raging against the democratically elected president and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government have demanded that he step down from office.

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo has been closed since Sunday, according to a notice posted on its website.

In early May as Egypt grew more fractious, U.S. Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., arrived at Moron Air Base in Spain, as part of a Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response team. Some of the Marines have since moved temporarily to Naval Air Station, Sigonella, Sicily. The task force will respond to emergencies across North and West Africa.

“The reason we are here is to provide a scalable force to respond to unexpected crisis,” Maj. Zane Crawford, the operations officer of the unit, said in a USMC news story in May. “We can rapidly deploy to support missions, such as embassy reinforcement, tactical recovery of aircraft, and personnel and noncombatant evacuation operations.”

Citing unnamed sources, CNN reported last week that the Marines have been told to be ready to be airborne in 60 minutes after deployment orders, but Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, wouldn’t confirm, saying the military doesn’t comment on specific readiness postures.

The move comes after the military, along with the White House, endured heavy criticism for not responding quickly enough to the deadly attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, last year. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the attack.

Twitter: @MegMcCloskey

U.S. Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit board an MV-22B Osprey at King Faisal Air Base in Jordan, June 14, 2013, during the Eager Lion exercises.

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