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2,200 Marines heading to Iraq aboard the USS Bataan amid Iran tensions

U.S. Marines and Sailors prepare to cross deck from the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) to the amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) in the Atlantic Ocean Dec. 18, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims/Released)
January 06, 2020

The U.S. Navy has seen a change of plans to its training drills planned for Morocco, as participating Marine units have been called to the Middle East amid new tensions with Iran.

Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) will now head to Iraq aboard the USS Bataan (LHD-5) amphibious assault ship to join other U.S. troops recently called upon to bolster security measures and military readiness in the country, according to USNI News.

According to the USNI Fleet Tracker, the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group had just arrived off the coast of Morocco this week as tensions have risen with Iran. The Marines aboard had planned to train with Moroccan military members, as part of the joint Exercise African Sea Lion, before the apparent change in plans.

“USS Bataan and embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are underway conducting routine operations, demonstrating the inherent flexibility of our naval forces,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Comer, a U.S. 6th Fleet spokesman. “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 26th MEU includes about 2,200 Marines, according to the unit’s webpage.

The apparent retasking for the 26th MEU Marines follows heightened security concerns after a week of back and forth moves by pro-Iranian groups and U.S. forces in Iraq that culminated in the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani while he was traveling with militia leaders in Baghdad, Iraq.

Around 4,000 soldiers with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, were deployed last week amid concerns over both the strike against Soleimani and prior pro-Iranian demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.

The news of the repositioned 26th MEU Marines also comes as a U.S. special operations task force, including up to 200 U.S. Army Rangers was announced for deployment to the Middle East.

Around 100 U.S. Marines had also deployed to the Baghdad embassy, following the initial news of the embassy attack, which saw protesters set fires throughout the embassy compound.

Following the death of Soleimani, Iranian leaders have called for “severe revenge.”

One Iranian military leader has suggested Iran has prepared to attack some 35 U.S. targets throughout the Middle East, including U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf.

President Donald Trump, in response, warned Iran that the U.S. is prepared to take out 52 more targets “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if Iran chooses to go forward with its retaliation.