By RICK MAZE
Marine Corps Times
The Senate voted Wednesday to authorize a 1,000 person increase in the size of the Marine Corps to provide additional protections for U.S. embassies and consulates, a direct response to the September attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
The additional Marines would be assigned to regional commands and detachments at embassies, consulates and diplomatic facilities. The extra personnel would be authorized beginning Oct. 1, 2013, and would be available for three years.
It's not immediately clear how this would affect the Marine Corps' ongoing personnel drawdown. Current plans call for shedding about 5,000 Marines from active duty each year through 2016 as the service works toward a new authorized end strength of 182,100. Officials at Marine Corps headquarters could not immediately address the question.
Because there is no similar provision in the House version of the defense bill, the fate of this effort will be determined by negotiations involving the House, Senate, Defense Department and White House as they hash out final details of the measure.
Those negotiations won't begin until the Senate passes its full version of the $648.5 billion bill, something not expected before Friday.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who offered the amendment, said the Benghazi attack was "a stark reminder that the security environment confronting American personnel serving in U.S. embassies and consulates abroad is as dangerous as any time that I can remember."
The additional 1,000 Marines are needed, he said, because there are many diplomatic facilities that have no Marine Corps personnel providing security and many facilities that have Marine security guard detachments of only six people.
"Today, there are 126 U.S. diplomatic missions outside the United States without Marine Corps security protecting (them), including parts of Asia and Africa where we suspect that al Qaida is expanding its presence," McCain said
The Benghazi attack killed the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith and security officers Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty. The incident has been heavily scrutinized, and numerous questions have been raised -- on Capitol Hill and beyond -- once it became clear there was no Marine Corps presence at the compound.
Marine security guard detachments are deployed based on requests made by the State Department. An official there told Marine Corps Times last month that an independent review board was convened to examine the Benghazi assault and make recommendations for improving security at its facilities.
The Marine Corps embassy security group is expected to add detachments over the next five to 10 years, but Marine officials insist that growth effort has been in place since 2004 -- and that it's not a knee-jerk response to recent events. They have, however, declined to say what the group's projected size will be when that growth is complete.
Currently, more than 1,200 Marine security guards are assigned to more than 130 countries
(Contributing: Gina Harkins and Andrew deGrandpre)