US Marine disaster response in Nepal

The US Marine Corps: Missing in Action

US Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger told a United States Congressional committee the other day that he had let down the “combatant commander.” The United States Marines Corps were unable to have Marines in position to assist US citizens during the ongoing fighting in Sudan and to provide assistance after a recent earthquake in Turkey.

But he’s not quite right. He also let down his nation.

The backbone of the Marine Corps’ global rapid response to crises is the three Marine Expeditionary Units/Amphibious Ready Groups (MEU/ARG) that are constantly “floating” worldwide. These are generally made up of three amphibious ships (the ARG) and a couple thousand Marines (the MEU) with all their hardware, weapons, and aircraft.

They are just as capable of saving lives as they are of taking them.

The MEU that should have been on hand to respond to Sudan and Turkey was in North Carolina. Thus, it had left the region uncovered.

In the event, the United States flew in a rescue force of Navy SEALs from Djibouti to evacuate the 75 or so Embassy personnel and dependents from Khartoum. It was a success.

As for the other thousands of American citizens in Sudan, the US government’s response to shelter in place or get yourself out was the equivalent of, “see ya … wouldn’t want to be ya.”

Blame it on the US Navy

The French and the British did better at getting in and assisting. And the Chinese did too. Indeed, Global Times crowed about the Chinese Navy‘s efforts to evacuate over 1300 Chinese from Sudan — and other nations’ citizens as well.

This was a far cry from the days when Americans overseas knew that the Marines would be coming. And the local authorities — or warlords — did as well.

Read the Commandant’s statements and it’s the US Navy to blame as it hasn’t provided (or built) enough amphibious ships to transport the Marines.

Make no mistake, the “amphib navy” is not the US Navy’s fair-haired child. Spending money on amphibious ships is only done grudgingly.

But in this case, the Navy might argue a degree of confusion about what the Marine Corps wanted. A year or two ago it seemed the Commandant and the Marines just wanted 30 new light amphibious warships.

The idea was these ships would be used to shuttle Marines and supplies to and from their island hideouts in the Western Pacific. There, they would watch for Chinese ships in the event of war.

Force Design 2030 — the Commandant’s plan to remake the Marine Corps — was the primary focus.

US Marine Corps
Lt Gen. David H Berger (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons images)

Gen Berger’s Judgment Called to Question

And anyway, amphibious assault wasn’t something Marines would be doing anymore. It was old-school. And probably not even possible, given today’s persistent surveillance from satellites and drones. Not to mention long-range weaponry.

One knowledgeable observer said it makes sense if you believe in:

Gen. Berger’s Strategic Vision, [which] is to get out of the business of forcible amphibious landings. “That is sooo WWII …. The PLA have missiles you know… We now have cyber…did well in defense of Wake Island…. We are NOT another US Army…America doesn’t need ANOTHER air force in addition to USAF and Naval Air ー too expensive you know. 

Now the Commandant is complaining he hasn’t got enough full-sized “amphibs” to do operations like Turkey and Sudan. No kidding.

A Retired Insider’s Perspective

One retired Marine put it thus:

Gen. Berger’s testimony for 30 of those Light Amphibious Warships at $300 million [USD] per copy — which were to flit among the islands but withdraw from the [area of operations] in the event of armed conflict — really shook confidence in his professional military judgment. [In the Department of Navy as well as Congress.]

In the waning days of his office, for him to now claim, “What I meant to say was I really really need those full-up 31 Amphib big decks….” just doesn’t resonate.  

Read the rest at Japan Forward.

Grant Newsham is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute.

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