WASHINGTON -- Some 50 U.S. Marines headed to Libya on Wednesday to reinforce security at diplomatic facilities in the aftermath of the attack in the eastern city of Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, officials said.
The Marines are members of an elite group known as a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, or FAST, whose role is to respond on short notice to terrorism threats and to reinforce security at U.S. embassies.
Headquartered at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, they operate worldwide. The contingent that was dispatched to Libya was based in Rota, Spain. A second Marine FAST element was standing by in Spain but had no orders to move, officials said.
The officials who disclosed the plan to send the Marines spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The Marines were headed initially to the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, not to Benghazi.
The main role of Marine security guards is to protect classified national security documents, according to the website of the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group. Their secondary role is to protect U.S. citizens and U.S. government property in the event of an emergency.
The Marines began their security guard mission in 1948. They are trained at the Marine Security Guard School.
In rare cases, the Marines send a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, or a portion of the team, to reinforce security at embassies. They were sent to Africa, for example, in response to the 1998 terrorist attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. A FAST group also provided security aboard a Navy hospital ship in New York following the 9/11 attacks.
Several officials said the U.S. military was making no other moves to deploy troops, ships or aircraft in response to Tuesday's attack.
The Navy confirms to 13News that 14 ships and at least 12,000 sailors and Marines from Norfolk, Little Creek and Camp Lejeune, NC are currently deployed in areas where they could respond if called upon. They include USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, USS Gunston Hall and the Enterprise and Eisenhower Carrier Strike Groups.