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U.S. Marines Arrive in Australia as Asia-Pacific Presence Raised

U.S. Marines began arriving in Australia after an agreement between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard to increase cooperation and allow a greater regional presence for American forces.

The first 200 of as many as 2,500 Marines arrived in the northern city of Darwin yesterday, Gillard said in a statement. Obama first announced that the contingent would be based in Australia during a visit in November to mark the 60th anniversary of the alliance between the two nations.

“As part of the ongoing U.S. consideration of its global force posture, this initiative will see U.S. Marine Corps personnel deploying to northern Australia on a rotational basis for around six months per year,” Gillard said.

The deployments are part of a U.S. push to increase its military footprint in the Asia-Pacific region that include plans to strengthen Philippines naval defenses. When Obama announced the plans last year he said they sent a “clear message” of U.S. commitment to the region and that the U.S. was not attempting to contain China.

Darwin is part of a growing energy hub where companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc are planning to spend more than A$150 billion ($156 billion) to develop offshore natural gas fields. Australia needs to bolster the defense of its energy and mining assets on its northwest coast, according to a review commissioned by the government released in January.

“It makes sense from our national interest perspective, it also makes sense for our region’s stability and security,” Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith said today, according to an e-mailed transcript of his remarks.

The 2,500-member Marine Air Ground Task Force that will deploy to Australia will include wheeled vehicles, artillery, light-armored vehicles and aircraft, Gillard said. They will use existing Australian facilities and no U.S. bases will be built in Australia, she said.

The arrival of the Marines “supports Australia’s long-held strategic interests in supporting U.S. engagement in our region in a manner that promotes peace and stability,” according to Gillard’s statement.

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