Questions have been raised in certain circles about MARSOC’s future with the US’ role in Afghanistan winding down.  It should be remembered, however, that the Marine Corps has a long history of unconventional warfare and special operations long predating SOCOM itself, never mind MARSOC.

On November 29, 1804, Lt. Presley O’Bannon, Midshipman George Mann, seven Marines, and William Eaton, the “Naval Agent for the Barbary States,” landed at Alexandria, Egypt.  They were there in response to the seizure of the crew of the USS Philadelphia, after the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusut Karamanli, had declared a state of war with the United States because he was dissatisfied with the tribute payments he was receiving from the US in exchange for not preying on American ships in the Mediterranean.

Meeting up with Hamet, the Pasha’s disaffected brother, and an army of about five hundred Tripolitans and rebellious Mamelukes, with one hundred camels and a few mules, they set off for Derna, Tripoli, on March 8, 1805.  Hamet actually was the former Pasha of Tripoli, having been overthrown by his brother in 1793 and exiled in 1795.

The trek was over five hundred miles across the Libyan desert.  With a mercenary force consisting of about two hundred Christians and two hundred to three hundred Muslims, sectarian problems were a real concern.  While the route took the army along the coast through El Alamein and Tobruk, supported from the sea by the USS Hornet, USS Argus, and USS Nautilus, conditions were still difficult.  Early on in the march, some of the Arab cavalry tried to mutiny, and the Marines put them down at bayonet-point.  Later, they became cut off from their seaborne supplies, and food and water started to get scarce.  Eaton and O’Bannon convinced the mercenaries to kill and eat a pack camel, and put off another mutiny.  Pay was also a problem; Eaton had landed with $20,000 to pay for the operation, but had used up the money by the time they got underway.