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Amphibious Assault Ship Bataan With 2,000 Marines On Board Is Headed Toward Iraq

Published: January 6, 2020
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Source: Zero Hedge

The Iraqi parliament voted on Sunday to expel US troops out of the country but so far, it appears that nobody in the US got the memo. In fact quite the contrary.

According to the US Naval Institute, amid rising tensions with Iran, the US Navy is scrapping an exercise with Morocco as it redirects the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5) and embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit with roughly 2,000 marines on board to the Middle East, a defense official confirmed to USNI News.

Members of the 26th MEU and Bataan crew were slated to train with members of the Moroccan military as part of the joint Exercise African Sea Lion. Indeed, the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group had just arrived off the coast of Morocco this week before its new tasking, according to the USNI Fleet tracker. The ARG deployed quietly from the East Coast in December. Now, Bataan and the 26th MEU are moving closer to the Middle East, as shown in the most recent map of naval deployments.

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit—a force of more than 2,000 Marines, including infantryman, artillery and aircraft—is expected to pass through the Suez Canal within days, U.S. officials said. On board the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship, the force could be put ashore for combat operations and also specializes in protecting and evacuating embassies.

“USS Bataan and embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are underway conducting routine operations, demonstrating the inherent flexibility of our naval forces,” Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Comer, a U.S. 6th Fleet spokesman told USNI News. “For operational security reasons, we do not discuss future operations. ARGMEUs operate continuously across the globe to provide commanders with a forward-deployed, flexible and responsive sea-based Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”

The Marines will join soldiers from the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 82nd Airborne who have been sent to Iraq as a security measure following the U.S. operation that killed a top Iranian military leader on Thursday. In total when the 5,000 sailors and marines from the Bataan arrive in Iraq, the US will have added roughly 10,000 troops in Iraq in the last week.

On Friday, several news organizations reported the Pentagon was sending up to 3,500 more 82nd soliders to the region, in case Iran or Iranian-backed forces attempted retaliation attacks following Soleimani’s death. ABC News first reported to 3,500 additional troops.

The deployments come just the Iraqi parliament voted to expel US forces operating in the country. In response, on Sunday the U.S. Central Command said it had suspended, at least temporarily, efforts to train Iraqi forces and help them fight Islamic State extremists.

If expelled from all of Iraq, the U.S. would still be able to do airstrikes from bases outside the country and carry out covert raids. But that would be much less effective than operating on the ground in concert with Iraqi security forces against Islamic State militants, who still number in the thousands and are striving to rebuild their capabilities following the loss of their self-declared caliphate.

If the final Iraqi decision means all U.S. troops have to come out, it would effectively end the U.S. capability to deal on a moment-to-moment basis with fleeting targets,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, who helped organize the international coalition of more than 70 countries, a handful of which have played an active role in Iraq and Syria in helping local partners fighting Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

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