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US military to deploy 1000s of Marines to E Asia to curb China's clout

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US and South Korean Marines crawl on South Korea's Pohang beach as bombs blast overhead in a joint war game.

The US Defense Department is considering plans to deploy thousands of heavily armed Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) to East Asia, in a bid to reposition American military forces from the Middle East to the Pacific aimed at containing rising Chinese influence in the region, Pentagon officials say.

The measure would be part of Washington’s initial concrete steps to boost its military presence in the region following Trump administration’s unveiling of its National Defense Strategy (NDS) in January, the US-based Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

 The NDS points to countering Russia and China as a military priority for the US and insists that the MEUs in East Asia will help the American military “persuade Pacific nations to stand with the US,” rather than China.

An MEU is a group of nearly 2,200 Marines who operate from amphibious assault ships and have their own aircraft, tanks, heavy weapons, and other resources, the report adds, noting that a typical deployment takes about seven months and may involve coastal missions such as patrols or military-to-military training.

“I believe the [National Defense Strategy] and other guidance requires us to adopt a more global posture and this will shape our future naval presence, especially in the Indo-Pacific region,” said US Marines Commandant General Robert Neller.

File photo of US naval forces

“We have to be present and engaged to compete,” he added, further pointing out that the new defense strategy “will shape our future naval presence, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.”

The US military regards the redeployment as a scheme for “a global resetting of forces” rather than a “buildup for war.” 

The MEUs will be involved in patrols and training and would be prepared to intervene “if a conflict were to break out.”

Citing military officials, the report, however, does not elaborate on how many MEUs the US intends to deploy to East Asia. Nearly 50,000 American troops are already stationed in Japan, in addition to almost 30,000 in South Korea and 7,000 more in Guam.

In a related development, the US military will also expand the number of Marines deployed in Darwin, Australia. Currently, there are 1,250 troops stationed there in rotating training assignments lasting six months each year.

According to the report, it was not yet clear how large the number of additional US service members in Australia will be.

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