MORON DE LA FRONTERA, Spain, April 26 (UPI) -- The first of 500 U.S. Marines were sent to Spain to create a rapid-reaction force to protect U.S. citizens and embassies in North Africa, an official said.
The team -- which began deployment Monday -- is based at Moron Air Base in southern Spain, a location that allows quick access to conflicts in Northern Africa, the Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN.
Once fully staffed, the operation will be capable of being airborne within 6 hours of receiving word of threats like the one in September in Benghazi, Libya, when Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others died in an assault at the U.S. Consulate.
Six V-22 Osprey aircraft and two C-130 refueling planes will be stationed at the base, with 225 personnel assigned to the aviation component of the unit, the official said. Another 225 Marines will be equipped and trained for combat along with intelligence and communications specialists. The duties of the remaining 50 Marines were not reported.
The team will be responsible for providing protection for embassies and diplomatic compounds under attack or receiving threats, protecting U.S. citizens, rescuing downed pilots and assisting other elements of the U.S. military in the event Americans need to be evacuated, the official said.