By Roxana Tiron - 10/20/09 05:06 PM EDT
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has approved the first deployment to Afghanistan of a Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft squadron, according to a Pentagon announcement.
The deployment comes on the heels of a request from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Three Marine MV-22 squadrons have been deployed to Iraq since 2007. The squadrons have deployed one at a time.
About 200 Marines will deploy to Afghanistan as part of the MV-22 Osprey squadron. The squadron to deploy will be from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron-261 in Jacksonville, N.C., and is expected support the needs of U.S. forces on the ground in southern Afghanistan.
“They just received their deployment orders,” said Lt. Col. Matt Morgan, spokesman for U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command. Morgan said that the MV-22 will add to the capability of Marines already in Afghanistan.
The White House is still weighing whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, above the authorized level of 68,000. McChrystal has reportedly requested an additional 40,000 troops.
In a report issued in May, the Government Accountability Office said that the MV-22 experience in Iraq demonstrated that the Osprey can complete missions assigned in low-threat environments because its speed and range were enhancements. However, GAO said that challenges may limit its ability to accomplish the "full repertoire of missions" of the legacy helicopters it is supposed to replace. Since the 1980s, the MV-22 has experienced several fatal crashes, demonstrated various deficiencies and faced virtual cancellation — much of which it has overcome, the GAO said.