WASHINGTON – The 15th
Marine Expeditionary Unit, currently deployed in Iraq's
volatile Anbar province, will be relieved next month by
Army troops, allowing the 2,200 Marines and sailors to
return to Camp Pendleton in March as scheduled, the
Pentagon said yesterday.
The 15th MEU sailed from San Diego on Sept. 13 aboard
the amphibious ships Boxer, Dubuque and Comstock for a
normal six-month deployment.
The amphibious group moved into the Persian Gulf so the
Marines could become the reserve force for Army Gen. John
Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command, who is
responsible for Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Marine unit was sent ashore in mid-November to
replace Army troops who had been transferred from Anbar to
reinforce the effort to stop the increasingly deadly
sectarian violence in Baghdad.
It was the third tour in Iraq for the unit, which was
part of the invasion force in March 2003 and returned last
year to join the anti-insurgency fight in Anbar.
One Marine from the unit's 2nd Battalion 4th Marines
was killed during this tour, adding to the 283 Marines and
sailors killed in Iraq. The number of wounded could not be
Pentagon spokesman Brian Whitman said Defense Secretary
Robert Gates had approved Abizaid's request to send the
2nd Combat Brigade from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division
to Kuwait to serve as Central Command's “call forward”
reserve force, replacing the 15th MEU.
The 3,500 soldiers from the brigade were recalled early
to their base at Fort Bragg, N.C., from holiday leave to
prepare to deploy early in January, Whitman said.