When the Marines Show Up at a U.S. Consulate

August 17, 2015


Erbil, a major trading town between Baghdad and Mosul in Iraq, was once considered relatively stable. All that changed when ISIL captured Mosul in June 2014, and then headed toward the Iraqi Region of Kurdistan and its capital, Erbil. By early August 2014, ISIL came within 15 miles of the Kurdish capital before U.S. airstrikes halted its advance.

At that point, the threat environment in Erbil transitioned from a potential direct ISIL assault on the town to an asymmetric threat of sporadic terrorist attacks. As Erbil scrambled to protect its citizens, car bombs went off at several security checkpoints, including one targeting the Erbil governor’s office in November 2014.

In response, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), in consultation with other State Department (DOS) and federal government stakeholders, deployed a squad of U.S. Marines from the Marine Security Guard Security Augmentation Unit (MSAU) to U.S. Consulate Erbil. These Marines arrived in Erbil on August 30, 2014, and immediately provided a timely and flexible solution to the heightened security situation, making it possible for post personnel to carry out U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives in a critical threat environment.

This short-term, preventative MSAU deployment supplemented Consulate Erbil’s Marine Security Guard (MSG) Detachment, DOS local guards, U.S. security forces, and Kurdish military and police. During the time these Marines protected the consulate, post was able to increase its American security staff and complete several physical security upgrades. Once the MSAU was no longer needed, the Marines left post to await their next deployment.

Date: 09/11/2014 Description: An MSAU Marine stands guard at U.S. Consulate Erbil during a heightened security situation, September 11, 2014. (U.S. Department of State photo) - State Dept Image
An MSAU Marine stands guard at U.S. Consulate Erbil during
a heightened security situation, September 11, 2014.
(U.S. Department of State photo)

“With ISIL at the doorstep of Erbil, deploying MSAU was critical to bolstering mission security for DOS personnel,” says DS Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for High Threat Programs (HTP) Doug Allison. Over the past several years, DS has quickly evolved to counter multiple threats overseas, in particular at high-threat posts. MSAU is a key part of that evolution of providing a safe environment for DOS personnel to advance U.S. diplomatic objectives even during critical times.”

Then-Consul General in Erbil Joseph Pennington says, “The MSAU provided the Consulate an effective protection force that bought us the time necessary to beef up our internal security staffing to address the heightened threat level.”

MSAU in a nutshell
In January 2013, President Barack Obama authorized the addition of 1,000 MSGs at American embassies and consulates worldwide. DS worked with the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group (MCESG) to create new detachments at select posts, increase the number of MSGs at posts that already had detachments, and launch the MSAU program to provide on-demand fortification.

The U.S. Marines who serve in MSAU are MSGs on their second or third posts. They have also received supplementary training from both the U.S. Marine Corps and DS Mobile Security Deployments (MSD) in tactics, techniques, and procedures that align with both DS and MCESG standards. Once deployed, they hit the ground running and bring to bear their extensive operational experience.

Date: 03/07/2015 Description: A group of MSAU Marines participate in a drill at a DS training facility, March 7, 2015. (U.S. Department of State photo) - State Dept Image

A group of MSAU Marines participate in a drill at a DS training facility, March 7, 2015. (U.S. Department
of State photo)

In addition to deploying before and after times of political unrest, MSAU also supports posts after natural disasters, during large construction projects, and for U.S. VIP visits. MSAU is strictly an interim augmentation option for embassies and consulates that can deploy in numbers tailored to meet the requirements set by the regional security officer (RSO). The number of Marines in an MSAU deployment has ranged from five to 26. Unlike other military quick-reaction forces, these are MSGs deploy under chief of mission authority, not under Department of Defense (DOD) and combatant commander control.

Since its inception in 2013, MSAU has deployed 54 times to unstable regions such as Kenya, Ukraine, Thailand, South Sudan, and Tunisia. In April 2015, due to the violence related to the national elections in Burundi, U.S. Embassy Bujumbura went into high alert, and MSAU arrived to fortify the facility. The Marines have remained in place and will continue to provide security augmentation until the RSO and post deem the environment safe for MSAU to return to the United States. 

  Date: 06/02/2015 Description: Bujumbura regional security officer (right) gives directions to a group of Marines who have arrived at post, June 2, 2015. (U.S. Department of State photo) - State Dept Image  
Date: 06/02/2015 Description: Bujumbura assistant regional security officer (right) orients a Marine (left) to the particulars of the U.S. Embassy Bujumbura compound, June 2, 2015. (U.S. Department of State) - State Dept Image

LEFT: Bujumbura regional security officer (right) gives directions to a group of Marines who have arrived at post,
June 2, 2015. (U.S. Department of State photo
)  R
IGHT: Bujumbura assistant regional security officer (right)
orients a Marine (left) to the particulars of the U.S. Embassy Bujumbura compound, June 2, 2015.
(U.S. Department of State)