WASHINGTON - Several hundred U.S. Marines have been moved into position to rapidly respond to possible violence in Libya, according to a Department of Defense official.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told WTOP it's a "prudent measure" after the arrest of Abu Anas al-Libi in Tripoli, Libya which triggered diplomatic protests claiming the U.S. violated Libya's sovereignty when he was arrested.
The official said 200 Marines attached to the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force for Crisis Response (SP-MAGTF Crisis Response), currently based at Morón Air Base in Spain, were moved to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy. Sigonella is 1,900 miles closer to Libya and just across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya's capital, Tripoli.
The official also said the decision to move the Marines stemmed from "lessons learned in Benghazi," when on Sept. 11, 2012, the U.S. consulate there was attacked by a heavily-armed group. Four people were killed, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Ten others were injured.
Former CIA undercover officer Robert Baer says the "snatch and grab" abduction of al-Libi could be very fruitful for the U.S. government. Al-Libi is part of a handful of senior or retired al-Qaida figures believed to have significant knowledge about al-Qaida operations dating back decades.
There was a $5 million bounty for al-Libi because of his role in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings and other crimes.
"This guy has been around since the mid-'90s. He knows everybody. He knows who's doing what, he can confirm other people that were involved in the African attack in 1998," Baer says.
Pentagon spokesman George Little says al-Libi "is currently lawfully detained under the law of war in a secure location outside of Libya."
That location, according to other military sources, is the USS San Antonio, which is in the Mediterranean.
The full SP-MAGTF Crisis Response force, which consists of approximately 500 Marines and sailors, is a rapid-deployment team capable of multiple missions ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to full combat.
The unit, based at Camp Lejune, N.C., is a rifle company infantry unit specifically trained to support U.S. and partner interests in the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) area of responsibility. The force was organized and trained starting in December 2012.
According to the DoD official, this force is expected to be on standby at NAS Sigonella for "the foreseeable future," out of an abundance of caution.
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