The Marines are members of an elite group known as a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, or FAST, whose role is to respond on short notice to terrorism threats and to reinforce security at U.S. embassies. They operate worldwide. The contingent that was dispatched to Libya was based in Spain.
The officials who disclosed the plan to send the Marines spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The Marines were headed initially to the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, not to Benghazi.
Several officials said the U.S. military was making no other moves to deploy troops, ships or aircraft in response to Tuesday?s attack. A second Marine FAST element was standing by in Spain but had no orders to move, officials said.
U.S. embassies, particularly in major countries and in unstable or less secure nations, usually have a resident contingent of Marine security guards. Early indications were that there were not at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. A consulate is a branch office in major cities outside the capital. These guards work under the supervision of the senior diplomatic officer at an embassy.
The main role of Marine security guards is to protect classified national security documents, according to the website of the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, which administers the security guard mission from a Marine base in Virginia. Their secondary role is to protect U.S. citizens and U.S. government property in the event of an emergency.
The Marines began their security guard mission in 1948. They are trained at the Marine Security Guard School.
In rare cases, the Marines send a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, or a portion of the team, to reinforce security at embassies. They were sent to Africa, for example, in response to the 1998 terrorist attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. A FAST group also provided security aboard a Navy hospital ship in New York following the 9/11 attacks.