(Recasts with comments on Libya, details on Marines' movement)
By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON May 14 The Pentagon said on
Wednesday it has temporarily moved nearly 200 Marines to Sicily
from their base in Spain as a precaution due to concerns about
unrest in North Africa, bolstering the U.S. ability to respond
to any crisis.
The Pentagon declined to single out any countries but two
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said
American concerns were centered squarely on Libya, where armed
groups and Islamists refused to disarm after the 2011 ouster of
The Marines are part of a crisis response unit focused on
embassy security created after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic
compound in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, which killed
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
That force is meant to speed U.S. response times in north
and west Africa.
"We're doing this as a contingency because we believe that
the security situation in North Africa is deteriorating to a
point where there could be threats," said Colonel Steve Warren,
a Pentagon spokesman.
Warren did not elaborate. The two U.S. officials, however,
told Reuters the move followed widespread concerns about
deteriorating security in Libya, as opposed to specific
information about an imminent attack.
The Pentagon has in recent months made similar, temporary
moves of Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task
Force-Crisis Response, who are mostly based in Spain but also
have a contingent stationed in Romania.
Last October, about 200 Marines from the task force also
flew to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily for several weeks
after U.S. special operations forces captured a senior al Qaeda
figure in Libya, triggering unrest.
Three years after the NATO-backed overthrow of Gaddafi,
Libya is gripped by political turmoil that has left the
government struggling to assert its authority over armed groups
Libya's oil infrastructure remains the target of protests
and shutdowns, usually by brigades of former rebels who refuse
to recognize the state's authority. Last month, gunmen stormed
Earlier on Wednesday, Libyan soldiers in charge of securing
the prime minister's office blocked cars from leaving the
building in protest at not having been paid.
Warren said the Pentagon's decision to move the forces,
along with six aircraft, followed a request from the U.S. State
Warren stressed that while the Marines were "unquestionably"
focused on the protection of embassies, he did not rule out the
possibility they could be called upon for a different mission.
"These are United States Marines capable of conducting any
mission given to them. That said, the focus of this force is the
protection of embassies and U.S. personnel," Warren said.
The Benghazi attack has become deeply politicized in
Washington, with Republicans accusing President Barack Obama's
administration of doing too little to repel the attacks and then
trying to protect Obama from political fallout.
(Additional reporting by Feras Bosalum and Ulf Laessing;
Editing by Bill Trott and Sandra Maler)