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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

San Diego Union-Tribune November 21, 2001

Marines from Pendleton may go into action

By James W. Crawley

The U.S. military is preparing to send regular ground troops, probably including Marines from Camp Pendleton, into Afghanistan, defense officials said yesterday. Marines could go in as early as this week, said officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, but their mission hasn't been revealed, nor the number who could be involved.

The Marines and Army troops could work with special operations forces -- Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets -- searching the countryside for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorists, according to defense analysts. Other potential missions include protecting humanitarian relief efforts and acting as peacekeepers. However, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said U.S. forces wouldn't become engaged in the dangerous task of checking the caves and tunnels where bin Laden may be hiding.

"Barring the very rapid demise of Osama bin Laden, it looks like the Pentagon is considering more sustained operations," said John Hillen, a military analyst formerly with the Heritage Foundation, and a former Army officer. "I think it's likely and grows by every day."

Meanwhile, Marines and sailors assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Bonhomme Richard amphibious ready group are preparing to leave San Diego in early December for the Arabian Sea, months before their scheduled departure, military officials said yesterday on condition of anonymity. The ready group includes 2,100 sailors aboard the amphibious ships Bonhomme Richard, Ogden and Pearl Harbor, plus 2,200 Marines from Camp Pendleton. Pentagon officials are tight-lipped about plans to use Marines on the ground in Afghanistan; however, they have acknowledged a continuing buildup of troops aboard ships off Pakistan.

Last weekend, the three-ship Bataan amphibious ready group, based in Virginia, joined the San Diego-based Peleliu ready group in the North Arabian Sea. Accompanying the Peleliu are the amphibious ships Comstock and Dubuque.

The Bataan is joined by the Shreveport and Whidbey Island, all based in Norfolk, Va. Each flotilla carries 2,200 Marines, including a battalion of combat troops, tanks, armored vehicles and an air wing of helicopters and Harrier jump jets.

Also, the Marines have announced that Brig. Gen. Christian Cowdrey, assistant commander of Camp Pendleton's 1st Marine Division, would lead a command group to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

While few details were disclosed, assigning a general suggests that he may lead an advance command party to be followed by a larger group, or he may be put in charge of the Marines aboard the Peleliu and Bataan flotillas.

"He's not there for a BLT (battalion landing team)," said John Pike, who heads GlobalSecurity, a Washington think tank. "A brigade (of Marines) would need a general." The battalion landing team is the ground combat force in an expeditionary unit and has about 1,200 Marines. A brigade is a much larger unit and can have as many as 14,000 combat and support troops.

Several options may be under consideration, military analysts said. Army troops from the 10th Mountain Division or other units could be moved into northern Afghanistan, where Taliban forces have retreated, to handle peacekeeping, humanitarian and prisoner internment camps.

Meanwhile, Marines could be put in southern and eastern Afghanistan to support and help special operations forces hunt down terrorists and fight Taliban forces near their southern stronghold of Kandahar.

Called an anvil-and-hammer maneuver, the special operations forces -- Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets -- would serve as the hammer, "beating the bushes" and causing the enemy forces to come out into the open, said analyst Hillen. The Marines -- the anvil -- would be in waiting, preventing escape, he said.

GlobalSecurity's Pike suggested that Army Rangers, who conducted a raid last month against a Taliban airfield near Kandahar, might be used to seize another airstrip. Only this time, Rangers and Marines would hold the base and use it as a forward operating base. Special forces could use the field, supported by airlifts from Air Force C-17 and C-130 cargo planes, as a base for quick-reaction forces.

Such a base, Hillen added, would allow forces to react quickly to intelligence reports.

Copyright 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.