The Senate voted Wednesday to authorize a 1,000 person increase inthe size of the Marine Corps to provide additional protections for U.S.embassies and consulates, a direct response to the September attack on adiplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of aU.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
The additional Marineswould be assigned to regional commands and detachments at embassies,consulates and diplomatic facilities. The extra personnel would beauthorized beginning Oct. 1, 2013, and would be available for threeyears.
It's not immediately clear how this would affect the MarineCorps' ongoing personnel drawdown. Current plans call for sheddingabout 5,000 Marines from active duty each year through 2016 as theservice works toward a new authorized end strength of 182,100. Officialsat Marine Corps headquarters could not immediately address thequestion.
Because there is no similar provision in the Houseversion of the defense bill, the fate of this effort will be determinedby negotiations involving the House, Senate, Defense Department andWhite House as they hash out final details of the measure. Thosenegotiations won't begin until the Senate passes its full version of the$648.5 billion bill, something not expected before Friday.
Sen.John McCain, R-Ariz., who offered the amendment, said the Benghaziattack was "a stark reminder that the security environment confrontingAmerican personnel serving in U.S. embassies and consulates abroad is asdangerous as any time that I can remember."
The additional 1,000Marines are needed, he said, because there are many diplomaticfacilities that have no Marine Corps personnel providing security andmany facilities that have Marine security guard detachments of only sixpeople.
"Today, there are 126 U.S. diplomatic missions outside theUnited States without Marine Corps security protecting (them),including parts of Asia and Africa where we suspect that al Qaida isexpanding its presence," McCain said.
The Benghazi attack killedthe U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, foreign service officerSean Smith and security officers Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty.The incident has been heavily scrutinized, and numerous questions havebeen raised - on Capitol Hill and beyond - once it became clear therewas no Marine Corps presence at the compound.
Marine securityguard detachments are deployed based on requests made by the StateDepartment. An official there told Marine Corps Times last month that anindependent review board was convened to examine the Benghazi assaultand make recommendations for improving security at its facilities.
TheMarine Corps embassy security group is expected to add detachments overthe next five to 10 years, but Marine officials insist that growtheffort has been in place since 2004 - and that it's not a knee-jerkresponse to recent events. They have, however, declined to say what thegroup's projected size will be when that growth is complete.
Currently, more than 1,200 Marine security guards are assigned to more than 130 countries.