The Marine Corps' crisis response task force for Africa was called upon to evacuate an injured special operations troop from Libya in a quiet mission never previously made public, the commander of the task force said.
The crisis response force, which includes some 800 Marines, including a reinforced infantry company, is capable of executing tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel (TRAP) missions, as well as embassy evacuation and reinforcement, and other quick-response efforts on the African continent.
During a six-month rotational deployment last year, which wrapped up as U.S. forces began conducting airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Sirte, Libya, at the behest of the country's government, the task force received a call to conduct the rescue, said Col. Martin Wetterauer, commander of the 8th Marine Regiment.
The U.S. has acknowledged that a small number of special operations troops have been on the ground in Libya to assist Libyan forces in defeating ISIS militants.
"It was a no-notice," Wetterauer said of the mission during a December post-deployment briefing near Washington, D.C.
The response element, stationed in Moron, Spain, was on its normal "N-plus-6" alert, Wetterauer said, meaning the Marines would be able to respond to a crisis within six hours. They received their mission between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., he said.
"We got the call that one of our [special operations forces] partners had been injured down on the continent; basically, he ended up with something in his eye," Wetterauer said. "So we went through the planning cycle. We initially didn't know if it was going to be an Osprey/C-130 mix, or a C-130 CASEVAC."
Ultimately, he said, the unit learned from the special operations team on the ground that they would be able to move the injured operator to Misrata, in the northwest corner of the country. Based on that decision, he said, the task force opted to leave the MV-22 Ospreys in Moron and execute the rescue with a single C-130 Hercules aircraft.
"We did a C-130 flight directly from Moron into Misrata, tail-to-tail, picked the injured soldier up and then flew him to Landstuhl," Wetterauer said, naming a large Army medical facility in Germany. "And we saved his eye in the process."
The entire operation took 16 hours, he said. The task force team that conducted the rescue spent one night in Landstuhl to rest up enough to make the return flight, then flew back to Moron to await more missions.
In addition to the rescue of an operator, Wetterauer said the task force was "tightly integrated" with U.S. special operations during its deployment, collaborating with training as well as sharing capabilities including TRAP and quick response. In the coming year, he said, he expects that close collaboration to continue.
"Until Libya becomes a stable environment or SOF is not the only guys working there, I would say this is going to be a lot of what we're doing," he said.