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thedrifter
12-09-08, 08:10 AM
Marines' chief expects they'll get Afghan duty
Such a buildup will likely coincide with a drawdown from Iraq, he says.

By LOLITA C. BALDOR Associated Press
Published: 12/9/2008 12:00 AM
Last Modified: 12/9/2008 2:57 AM

WASHINGTON — Defense leaders are approaching a consensus to send a substantial contingent of Marines to Afghanistan, probably beginning next spring, and dramatically reduce their presence in western Iraq, the top Marine general said Monday.

Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, said in an interview with The Associated Press that Marine units tentatively scheduled to go to Iraq next spring are incorporating some training for Afghanistan into their preparations.

He said he has had discussions with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and he believes that the Pentagon chief "would not object to the idea of a fairly strategic shift of focus of Marines from Iraq to Afghanistan."

"I don't want to put words in his mouth," said Conway, who has made no secret of his belief that Marines could be put to better use fighting in Afghanistan than carrying out their current peacekeeping, nation-building mission in Iraq. Gates, he said, understands "my public stance on the fact that we can be better used elsewhere. And he certainly hasn't told me to pipe down. So I like to think he understands the logic of it."

At the same time, Conway said that when the 22,000 Marines in Iraq's Anbar province leave, he believes that they should all go, and not leave training teams behind.

More than a year ago, when early discussions of sending more Marines to Afghanistan became public, Gates signaled his opposition, preferring to maintain the concentration on Iraq.


Conway said then that Gates and others believed that the timing
wasn't right to shift the Marines out of Anbar.

He took a decidedly different tone Monday, however.

"I just see that people have, over time, understood we don't want to take over Afghanistan, such as was rumored when we first started talking about a shift of forces," Conway said. Instead, he said, officials now realize that the Marines are an expeditionary fighting force that is better suited to the Afghanistan battle.

Gates has not yet approved additional forces for Afghanistan, but it's expected he may do that fairly soon. After that, military leaders will decide which units will go.

By LOLITA C. BALDOR Associated Press

Ellie