San Diego Union Tribune

December 28, 2006

Army troops are mustered to provide needed relief for Marine expeditionary unit

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

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.

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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 determined.

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.

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