400 Marines to join Kearsarge near Libya

The Pentagon is sending an additional 400 Marines to join the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge near North Africa in response to the unrest in Libya, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the Kearsarge and the amphibious transport dock Ponce to move from the U.S. Central Command region into the Mediterranean Sea to provide the capability for evacuation or humanitarian aid.

“We are obviously looking at a lot of options and contingencies,” Gates said Tuesday at a Pentagon briefing.

U.S. military officials are closely tracking the events in Libya, where armed rebels are clashing with military forces loyal to the Arab nation’s longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Gates downplayed the prospect of military action in Libya, noting that there is no clear support from the United Nations or a consensus among U.S. allies.

The Kearsarge deployed in August with an amphibious readiness group with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, but most of those Marines have deployed to Afghanistan. The 400 Marines will be coming from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested officials were considering imposing a no-fly zone over Libya amid reports that Gadhafi was using his air force to bomb rebels.

“No option is off the table. That, of course, includes a no-fly zone,” Clinton said Monday after diplomatic meetings in Switzerland. “Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to govern and it is time for him to go without further violence or delay.”

But military officials have downplayed the prospect of a no-fly zone.

Marine Gen. James Mattis, CENTCOM commander, told lawmakers during a previously scheduled hearing Tuesday that a no-fly zone would require a full-scale military operation to destroy the Libyan regime’s air defenses.

“No illusion here — it would be a military operation. It wouldn’t be just telling people not to fly airplanes,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Service Committee.

story by: Andrew Tilghman

photo courtesy of: www.aircav.com

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