COLUMBIA, S.C. — Military police from the South Carolina Army National Guard have been ordered to prepare for a possible deployment to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba as early as this fall, a Guard official said Tuesday.
About 100 members of the 131st Military Police Co. in Beaufort have been told to prepare for a potential deployment in the new fiscal year, which begins in October, said National Guard spokeswoman Col. Cindi King.
"The unit is currently scheduled to be on orders just under a year," King said. But she said she could not specify any deployment date for security reasons.
It would be the first time a South Carolina National Guard force has been sent to support the group known as Joint Task Force Guantanamo, which is in charge of the U.S. military prison holding about 80 suspected terrorists.
King said the 131st is one of three military police units in the S.C. Guard, and that it is composed of male and female soldiers.
The Naval Base on the southeastern tip of Cuba was first leased by the U.S. government in 1903. After the Cuban Revolution, the site became a source of contention between the two governments. Since 2002, Guantanamo has housed the prison for combatants captured during the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
President Barack Obama has promised to close the prison and federal officials have visited several military prison sites in the United States that they are considering as possible transfer points, including the Navy brig located north of Charleston.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has been sharply critical of any plan to send detainees to the brig or anywhere else in the state.
Last week, Haley criticized the federal government for keeping her in the dark about plans regarding any possible prison site for the detainees, which she contended would make her state a target for terrorists.
"I don't want it going into any state in the country," Haley told a House Homeland Security subcommittee.
King said the Beaufort military police unit was first organized in 2010, and this would be the first deployment for the soldiers as a unit.