In a blockbuster exclusive, the Global Post reported on one of its blogs yesterday that 7,000 U.S. Marines were on the way to Costa Rica ready for land-based operations. The piece implies that Marines could take an active role in fighting drug trafficking.
It’s a sensational story — if only it were true.
Marine officials say that, no, they do not have 7,000 Marines on the way to Costa Rica. That’s hardly a surprise, considering the Corps had less than 10,000 Marines in Afghanistan as recently as last year, but it’s worth setting the record straight.
What the Corps does have on the way to Costa Rica and several other nations in Central America is about 600 Marines, Marine officials say. The Marines are part of a 1,600-man force that will stop in Costa Rica as part of Continuing Promise, an annual operation that provides humanitarian and civic assistance in Columbia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Panama, Haiti and Suriname. The Marines deployed July 12 with hundreds of sailors from Norfolk, Va., aboard the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, according to this U.S. Southern Command release.
The exaggeration is yet another example of how the Corps casts a long shadow, even when it doesn’t necessarily intend to. Last year, Marine Corps Times reported that numerous Pakistani news reports suggested as many as 7,000 Marines would be stationed at a new embassy housing complex under construction in Islamabad. In reality, a new $112.5 million embassy facility under construction at the time included a $5 million quarters for 15 to 20 Marines, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson told reporters in Pakistan last August.
In that case, the inflated numbers appeared to have stem from an Aug. 1 report by Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper. The newspaper reported that the U.S. “plans to have a bigger presence in Pakistan in the pursuit of its strategic interests have raised several eyebrows in Islamabad.” Dawn reported that the facility could accommodate up to 350 Marines, and that number was eventually inflated by other Pakistani news sources.
Nathaniel Fick, a former Marine captain and current CEO of the nonpartisan Center for a New American Security, told me at the time that sending 7,000 Marines to Pakistan didn’t fit the U.S. stated goals in the region and would require an overhaul of other Pentagon plans, considering the manpower requirement.
“It’s like telling me that 7,000 Marines are deploying to the moon,” he said. “It’s just doesn’t make sense.”
Uh…. I think the same applies here.