The first wave of U.S. Marines has arrived in northern Australia, marking the start of a larger U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Australian Defense Secretary Stephen Smith greeted the 200 Marines as they stepped off a charter flight in Darwin Wednesday. The Marines are the first contingent of an eventual 2,500-member Air Ground Task Force that will engage in joint military exercises with Australian forces.
Under the agreement, Australia also will facilitate an increased use of Darwin air base by U.S. military aircraft, including jet fighters and bombers.
The Marines will not establish a permanent outpost in Darwin. Instead, they will be based at a military barracks on the city’s outskirts and deploy to the region on a six-month rotational basis.
The deployment is part of an agreement announced in November by U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard during events marking the 60th anniversary of the two nations’ military and strategic alliance.
The agreement was met with open suspicion by China, which fears the U.S. seeks to stifle Beijing’s rise as a global economic and military power.