Marines get OK to add troops, form anti-terror brigade

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Navy Secretary Gordon England said Wednesday he has authorized the Marine Corps to add 2,400 troops to help form a brigade to fight terrorism in the United States and overseas.

England said the increase and the new brigade are needed for a war on terrorism that will be prolonged and require new strategies.

“This is not something that is going to be quick and sudden,” England said during a tour of Navy and Marine Corps bases.

The troop increase, the first since the end of the Cold War for the nation’s smallest military service, is an indication of how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are reshaping the armed services.

Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Douglas O’Dell Jr., in a telephone interview from the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., said the 4,800-member brigade should be ready by Dec. 1. He said troops are receiving advanced training in weaponry and urban combat techniques.

The heavily armed group, O’Dell said, will bring “vigilance with an attitude and the Marine muscle to back it up.”

England, a former General Dynamics executive, used his emergency powers to grant a request by Marine Commandant Gen. James Jones for the increase. After hitting a peak of 196,000 troops during the Persian Gulf War, the Marine Corps has undergone a series of reductions to the current level of 172,500.

As an immediate measure to boost the number to 174,900, England has invoked a “stop-loss” power that delays the departure of Marines who have served their enlistments. Also, several hundred reservists have been called up. A budget request will be made to Congress to increase the Marine Corps’ recruitment goal by 2,400 to make the addition permanent.

O’Dell said he anticipates that one-third of the brigade will be dedicated to protecting civilian and military installations in America, and two-thirds will be deployed to foreign assignments, including tightened defense of U.S. embassies.

The 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade will bring together troops from three existing battalions and 1,000 infantry troops receiving training at Camp Lejeune. The goal is to have the brigade able to go anywhere in the world on six hours’ notice.

Although the details of the brigade’s immediate missions are yet to be determined, O’Dell said the unit will consist of troops trained in responding to chemical and biological attacks and as security guards. Rather than deploying by slow-moving ships, the brigade will use civilian and military aircraft.

As a way to quickly move the brigade’s gear and heavy equipment, O’Dell said, the Marine Corps is considering a contract with Federal Express. With all four branches of the military moving troops and materiel to spots near Afghanistan, military cargo planes are reaching their limits, officials said.

Although the brigade is not considered a special-operations unit with commando-like skills, it could assist such troops, O’Dell said. The troops could aid in the evacuation of civilians from military hot spots, a Marine Corps specialty.

“We are mentally, physically and emotionally prepared to deploy,” O’Dell said.

The anti-terrorism brigade is in addition to the several thousand Marines already deployed on ships in the Mediterranean and Arabian seas, including 2,000 from Camp Pendleton. Some of those Marines have already been sent to Pakistan as part of the American buildup.