The Pentagon is currently deliberating an extension of the deployment for Marines and sailors who have been active in the Middle East and Mediterranean since the summer.
This decision comes amidst growing concerns about the readiness of Navy ships designated to relieve them. The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), including around 2,000 Marines, has been on patrol in these strategic waters since their deployment in July.
Prolonged presence in a volatile region
Their mission took on added significance during the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, positioning them off the coast of Israel as a rapid response unit.
The need for a strong U.S. military presence in the Middle East has become more pressing as regional instability escalates.
The Bataan ARG, consisting of the USS Bataan, USS Carter Hall, and USS Mesa Verde, may now see their deployment extended to nearly a year.
“Deterrence is back on the table, and if you thought we forgot about the Middle East, you’re wrong,” a defense official stated to Military.com.
USS Bataan’s extended mission bolsters U.S. naval presence in key regions
The extension, potentially until May or June, would mark roughly 11 months of continuous deployment, with CBS reporting the Bataan’s deployment as “indefinitely.”
Amphibious groups like the Bataan ARG serve as a mobile, first-response force globally for the U.S.
While carrier strike groups conduct operations against Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, the Marines and sailors aboard the Bataan patrol critical waterways such as the Red Sea and Strait of Hormuz, providing a deterrence against regional threats.
Last month, USNI News reported that despite a force-wide grounding, the Marines aboard the Bataan have clearance to operate MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in emergencies.
26th Marine unit readies for crisis response in Middle East
The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit on board emphasized the importance of these aircraft for potential mass evacuations and embassy reinforcements.
The Israel-Hamas War has ignited concerns of a broader conflict in the Middle East.
Incidents of violence have surged, with over 150 attacks on U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq since October, attacks on commercial ships by Houthis, and escalating tensions between Iran and Pakistan.
In response, the U.S. and U.K. militaries have conducted strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen, with President Joe Biden affirming the continuation of these military actions.
Pentagon weighs longer Bataan stay amid Boxer ARG readiness concerns
Given these developments, the Pentagon’s contemplation of an extended deployment for the Marines and sailors in the Bataan ARG is seen as a crucial step in maintaining regional stability.
The question of the deployment’s duration is linked to the readiness of another Navy group, the Boxer ARG, which is likely to replace the Bataan, as per a defense official.
However, there’s uncertainty about the Boxer’s readiness.
Military.com reports that the Boxer is currently undergoing “additional advanced training” and has not been certified ready for deployment.
Boxer ARG’s readiness raises concerns amid potential extension
The Boxer ARG’s readiness has been a topic of concern. Politico initially reported the possible extension of the Bataan and 26th MEU deployment.
Military.com understands that while the Boxer conducted crucial pre-deployment exercises as late as last week, it has returned to port for further training.
The Navy’s Third Fleet has refrained from speculating on future operations but asserts that the Boxer ARG maintains a constant state of readiness.
The 26th MEU, known for its special operations capability, initially deployed to the Middle East in July to counteract Iranian aggression in the Strait of Hormuz.
26th Marine unit’s key role in Middle East amid evolving strategy
They have since been redirected to address the Israel-Hamas conflict, showcasing their adaptability and strategic importance in the region.
The unit’s last publicly disclosed operation was Odyssey Encore, an exercise in Greece, highlighting their readiness for the next deployment phase.
As the situation in the Middle East continues to evolve, the U.S. military’s strategic decisions, including the potential extension of the Bataan ARG’s deployment, play a critical role in maintaining regional stability and responding to emerging threats.