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I thought it noteworthy that an unnamed Pentagon source claims that “an Army brigade” has been put on alert for Lebanon:
Around 5,200 American troops are based in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and help in the fight against Islamic State group militants. Defense officials who discussed the new troop movements spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision not yet announced by the Pentagon. A Pentagon official who was not authorized to be identified said the U.S. also had placed an Army brigade on alert to fly into Lebanon to protect the American Embassy. U.S. embassies also issued a security alert for Americans in Bahrain, Kuwait and Nigeria.
That would be a garbled way of saying that the 82nd Airborne has a “be prepared” order to respond to Iran’s oldest and most effective proxy, the original Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah actually runs the government and the military, such as it is, in Lebanon. They blew up a hotel/barracks full of Marines during President Reagan’s tenure. Naturally, the American embassy in Lebanon would be of particular concern now.
A Reuters story fleshes out the threat a bit, including a very revealing passage I highlighted:
In mid-October, Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani met with his Iraqi Shi’ite militia allies at a villa on the banks of the Tigris River, looking across at the U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad.
The Revolutionary Guards commander instructed his top ally in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and other powerful militia leaders to step up attacks on U.S. targets in the country using sophisticated new weapons provided by Iran, two militia commanders and two security sources briefed on the gathering told Reuters.
The strategy session, which has not been previously reported, came as mass protests against Iran’s growing influence in Iraq were gaining momentum, putting the Islamic Republic in an unwelcome spotlight. Soleimani’s plans to attack U.S. forces aimed to provoke a military response that would redirect that rising anger toward the United States, according to the sources briefed on the gathering, Iraqi Shi’ite politicians and government officials close to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
…Before the attacks, the U.S. intelligence community had reason to believe that Soleimani was involved in “late stage” planning to strike Americans in multiple countries, including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, U.S. officials told Reuters Friday on condition of anonymity. One senior U.S. official said Soleimani had supplied advanced weaponry to Kataib Hezbollah.
White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters on Friday that Soleimani had just come from Damascus, “where he was planning attacks on American soldiers, airmen, Marines, sailors and against our diplomats.”
Read the rest of the Reuters article for detailed preparations, deliberations, and movements revealed. The Americans in Syria would be the small number of US military and intelligence forces, who already operate with an abundance of situational awareness. The revived threat to the American embassy and personnel in Lebanon surely prompted a bit of contingency plan updating and a preparatory/planning order for the relevant strategic lift and armed response forces.
Yes, the Marines have pride of place in embassy security. It is their mission, not the Army’s, as we all know from a lifetime of stories and images. Beyond that, the Marine Corps has history with Lebanon; you could say it was personal. However, the Marines do not have unlimited units prepositioned at all times to respond to threats to all embassies. So, the Army’s airborne brigade with alert duty is the global 911 answer. It is right there in the 82nd Airborne Division’s mission statement:
The mission of the 82nd Airborne Division is to, within 18 hours of notification, strategically deploy, conduct forcible entry parachute assault and secure key objectives for follow-on military operations in support of U.S. national interests.
The 82nd Airborne Division is an active airborne infantry division of the United States Army specializing in joint forcible entry operations. Based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the 82nd Airborne Division is the primary fighting arm of the XVIII Airborne Corps. The 82nd Division was constituted in the National Army on August 5th, 1917, and was organized on August 25th, 1917, at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Since its initial members came from all 48 states, the unit acquired the nickname “All American,” which is the basis for its famed “AA” shoulder patch.
They have the loads of all the stuff they need to take, besides the soldiers, preconfigured to load on the Air Force cargo planes already tasked to support that contingency. I would not be surprised to read of ships suddenly floating within Osprey flight off the coast of Lebanon, with plenty of pictures of Marines in their distinct battle uniforms. Sure enough, the USS Bataan, already headed into the Mediterranean Sea, is reportedly moving towards the east end, rather than stopping at Morocco for planned joint exercises.
“USS Bataan and embarked [26th] Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are underway conducting routine operations, demonstrating the inherent flexibility of our naval forces,” Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Comer, a U.S. 6th Fleet spokesman told USNI News. “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.”
All of this was true. This is well within the range of normal, even routine, for the Navy, Marines, the 82nd Airborne, and the Air Force cargo transport units that get the All American paratroopers there. That is something no other nation on the face of the earth can say.