U.S. Embassy in Cairo Still Closed as Marines on Standby in Italy and Spain

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo posted an announcement on its website saying the embassy would remain closed on Sunday. According to the statement, the embassy was “closed to the public and regular consular services are suspended for the day,” asking those who had appointments to reschedule them.

While the statement did not report a specific threat against the American diplomatic installation, in an effort to prevent another Benghazi-like scenario during which embassy staff were left almost defenseless, the Pentagon has placed Marines stationed in Italy and Spain on standby in case the security situation in Egypt deteriorates to an extent that U.S. Embassy personnel could be threatened, according to multiple media reports.

The embassy announcement did not cite a specific reason for the closure but described the precarious security situation in Egypt where there continue to be ongoing clashes in the wake of President Mohammed Morsi’s ouster last week. The embassy said, “U.S. citizens should avoid areas where large gatherings may occur. Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.”

Egyptian Army soldiers patrol the streets outside Cairo University after a broadcast confirming that the army will temporarily be taking over from the country’s first democratically-elected president Mohammed Morsi on July 3, 2013 in Cairo. (Getty Images)

According to almost daily statements on its website, the embassy has been closed since demonstrations calling for Morsi’s resignation began last Sunday. The embassy was closed all last week through July 3. Thursday was the Fourth of July and, in keeping with the local customs of the majority-Muslim country, the embassy closes for the weekend on Fridays and Saturdays.

Pentagon spokesman George Little wouldn’t comment specifically to the independent military newspaper Stars and Stripes about the security situation of the Cairo embassy, but said the military assets were in place just in case.

“We have taken steps to ensure our military is ready to respond to a range of contingencies,” he said.

USA Today also reported on July 3:

A contingent of the Marines’ new fast reaction force for rescue missions in Africa has been moved to Sigonella, Italy, for possible action in Egypt.

“This is certainly one of the possibilities of the (task force),” Marine Capt. Eric Flanagan, a spokesman based at the Pentagon, said in an email. “The unit is always on standby with a short tether.”

With Egypt teetering on anarchy, the 500-member Marine unit could be called on to swoop in and help secure the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

USA Today reported that the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force for Crisis Response was set up after the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked on September 11, 2012 during which four Americans were killed including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Stars and Stripes reported:

In early May as Egypt grew more fractious, U.S. Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., arrived at Moron Air Base in Spain, as part of a Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response team. Some of the Marines have since moved temporarily to Naval Air Station, Sigonella, Sicily. The task force will respond to emergencies across North and West Africa.

“The reason we are here is to provide a scalable force to respond to unexpected crisis,” Maj. Zane Crawford, the operations officer of the unit, said in a USMC news story in May. “We can rapidly deploy to support missions, such as embassy reinforcement, tactical recovery of aircraft, and personnel and noncombatant evacuation operations.”

CNN reported earlier that U.S. Marines in southern Europe were put on alert “as a precaution” before the large demonstrations calling for Morsi to step down last week.

The news network cited two administration officials who confirmed that 200 combat capable Marines in Italy and Spain were “told to be ready to be airborne within 60 minutes of getting orders to deploy.”

According to a June 28 CNN report, “The units have several V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft that would carry troops and infantry weapons to Egypt to protect the U.S. Embassy and American government personnel and citizens if violence broke out against Americans.”

American officials with whom CNN spoke said that the U.S. expected that Egyptian security forces would be capable of protecting American facilities and personnel.

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