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In wake of Benghazi, rapid response Marine unit heading to Europe

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A V-22 Osprey lands at the Pentagon following a meeting between U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Japanese Minister of Defense Satoshi Morimoto August 3, 2012 in Arlington, Virginia.

Highlighting the continuing fallout from the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on an American consulate in Libya that took the lives of four Americans, defense officials told NBC News on Wednesday that the U.S. Marine Corps is on the verge of announcing a new group tasked with crisis response in north Africa and eastern Europe.

The group, which will be known as the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, will likely be based at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, Italy.  The team will be capable of rapid deployment for responding to security threats throughout the region — including a U.S. embassy under attack.

Orders for the new Marine unit will likely go to the secretary of defense for approval late next week. The task force will have around 1,000 Marines and a variety of aircraft, including a half-dozen Ospreys — a airplane that can take off vertically like a helicopter but once airborne is capable of high-speed flight.

If approved, the land-based task force will deploy from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina early this spring.

The announcement of the new Marine group comes just weeks after Republicans in Congress hounded former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over why the diplomatic mission in Libya was not better protected the night of the deadly attack that took the life of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Hours before the attack, Stevens sent a cable to the State Department warning of deteriorating security conditions. Yet, during hearings on Capitol Hill, Clinton said the warning never came to her attention because the State Department receives more than one million cables each year.

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel could be the one to approve the Marine Air-Ground Task Force — if he is confirmed as Defense Secretary when Congress returns from recess. Senate Republicans blocked a vote to approve his nomination last week.