Marines embassy security teams to take fiscal hit

Marine Corps units assigned to protect some of the State Department's most dangerous diplomatic outposts will have to do more with less, due to recent budget cuts tied to sequestration. 

Service leaders have issued a 30 percent, across-the-board budget reduction to all service combat units not preparing for deployment to Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Monday. 

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Warren could not provide a specific dollar amount on how much the Marine Corps embassy security units would be cut by, but did say funding for those security forces would be cut, to pay for sequestration. 

Embassy security has been a hot-button issue for Congress ever since the September 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. 

The attack, which administration officials initially claimed was the result of an anti-American protest gone awry, ended in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. 

Only weeks later did administration officials reversed course and admit the consulate strike was a coordinated attack by terror groups with possible ties to Libya. 

Earlier this year, State Department officials were forced to shutter several embassies and consulates in the Mideast and Africa, due to a pending terror threat from al Qaeda factions in the region. 

As a result, Defense lawmakers agreed to include funding for 1,000 additional Marines to the service's embassy security force, assigned to protect American diplomatic outposts across the globe. 

But with the sequester-driven funding cuts to Marine Corps units announced Monday, it remains unclear whether those additional Marines will have the resources to do their mission. 

Under sequestration, the Pentagon is staring down $500 billion in mandatory spending cuts. The cuts began in March and would reduce Pentagon spending by $52 billion next year.

As a result, the Defense Department is considering reducing the Army to its smallest size since 2001 because of the sequester’s automatic spending cuts.

In a strategy released Wednesday, the Pentagon said one scenario being considered would shrink the Army from 490,00 to between 380,000 and 450,000 troops. 

The Marine Corps would be slashed from 182,000 to between 150,00 to 175,000, and the number of aircraft carrier strike groups would be reduced from 11 to eight or nine. 

“This strategic choice would result in a force that would be technologically dominant, but would be much smaller and able to go to fewer places and do fewer things,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in August, shortly after the release of the Pentagon's sequestration strategy. 

The fiscal 2015 budget being worked inside the Pentagon is the first spending plan offered by the Defense Department that takes sequestration cuts into account.