United States Marines began to arrive in the northern coast city of Darwin, Australia as Washington strengthened its presence in the Asia-Pacific region. These are the vanguard of a 2,500-strong force to be deployed there under an agreement increasing the American military presence in China’s strategic backyard.
The deployment of Marines is part of the agreement signed in November by President Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The pact is part of the president’s publicly stated strategy of shifting the American military’s long-term focus toward the Pacific and an increasingly assertive China. Beijing has accused Mr. Obama of escalating military tensions in the region.
The US contingent in Australia is expected to be a rotational force. Its different units will be moving through for short periods of time and will not be based in Australia permanently.
The Marines will train during the dry season at the territory’s Mount Bundy, Bradshaw and Delamere training areas while based at Robertson Barracks in Darwin. Under the agreement, Marines would rotate to Darwin, located in the sparsely populated Northern Territory of Australia, for six months at a time. The plan is to expand the company-sized element to a battalion-strength group of roughly a 1,000 Marines by 2014. The outfit will eventually grow to a 2,500 air-ground task force by 2016.
Despite the fact that the US’s final military presence in the country is to grow into a 2,500-person Marine Air Ground Task Force, Smith insisted that the marines and their entourage cannot be qualified as a military base.
”We don’t have United States military bases in Australia and we’re not proposing to,” he told ABC radio from Darwin, where he greeted the initial deployment of marines.
Last week Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the controversial deployment of U.S. Marines in his country had not provoked a strong response from Beijing.
China’s foreign ministry called for “peace and stability” in the region after the first group of 200 U.S. Marines arrived in Australia in April.
But China’s defense ministry criticized the move as proof of a “Cold War mentality” and state media accused U.S. President Barack Obama of using his diplomatic ambitions in Asia to detract from U.S. economic woes.