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Thread: The Afghanistan plan
10-14-07, 05:20 PM #1
The Afghanistan plan
The Afghanistan plan
Conway floats idea of moving leathernecks from one front to the other
By Patricia Kime - firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted : October 22, 2007
“Would any of you retirees like to go with us to Afghanistan?”
Commandant Gen. James Conway’s lighthearted opening remarks at a dinner Oct. 11 shot the elephant in the room. “You can sign up in the back there.”
Conway’s closely held proposal to leave the entire Iraq mission to the Army, while the Corps would take over the Afghanistan mission, made headlines that morning in New York and Los Angeles. By lunchtime, the story was repeating hourly on the cable news outlets.
And by the time Conway appeared that evening at the Marine Corps Association’s Ground Awards Dinner in Arlington, Va., the proposal was being debated on blogs and radio programs.
But aside from his opening crack, Conway was silent on the issue.
“It’s premature at this time for me to talk about it,” Conway said after the dinner. “If there is an appropriate point in time, if certain things happen, we’ll let you know so we can get it out to the Marines.”
The idea, first reported in The New York Times, would focus one service on each of the two war fronts.
Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said that the secretary is not considering a formal plan at this stage and that the idea represents “some very early thinking by the Marine Corps.”
“The secretary certainly hasn’t been presented any sort of proposal on this,” Whitman said.
The Afghanistan idea has been brewing for weeks, but no solid plans have been offered publicly. The Times report, based entirely on unnamed sources, said the concept was briefed at a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the regional war-fighting commanders convened by Gates in the first week of October.
Two weeks earlier, Conway had hinted at the notion during a different awards dinner, also hosted by the Marine Corps Association.
During that meeting, Conway said the U.S. will be “in Afghanistan for a long time” and presented an option for Marines to head to Afghanistan from Iraq as one of several alternatives under consideration by service planners.
“Maybe we need to go to Afghanistan first,” Conway mused. “My take is that that is going to be tougher than we think.”
According to one unnamed military source in the Times article, the Marines’ push is “an early indication of jockeying among the four armed services for a place in combat missions for years to come.”
During his Sept. 13 speech, Conway suggested that Marines could withdraw from Iraq’s Anbar province and head for Afghanistan. But he also said the Corps and the Army are discussing how and when Marines will leave if the deployment order comes.
“We’re looking at a drawdown order sooner or later,” he said.
The Corps’ deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations is responsible for coordinating withdrawal plans. Marine planners essentially have three options. The first one, which Conway calls the “Vietnam model,” has Marines completely withdrawing from the country while Army forces remain. “I don’t think that’s feasible,” Conway said.
The second brings Marines home at the “same pace” as the Army, which has 115,000 soldiers in Iraq. The Corps has roughly 25,000 troops deployed there. But Conway voiced concern over that plan, saying the Marine Corps, as an expeditionary force, lacks the nation-building skills required for this plan.
The third is the Afghanistan plan.
“We think this has merit and will keep us in the fight,” Conway said.
Conway would not discuss a timetable for withdrawal. He said Marines would leave when given their orders.
Generals in the Army and on the Joint Staff expressed doubt about whether the Corps could take on the mission without significant support from the other services and whether Marine aviation assets were up to the job.
“We’re seeking joint solutions to most of the challenges we face today, to include Afghanistan and Iraq,” one Joint Staff general said. “A single-service approach? Holy smokes. Why would we ever go back to that way of war fighting, particularly when it doesn’t give you any advantage over your enemy and in fact complicates life tremendously in terms of sorting out how you’re going to support all of this?”
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a former Marine officer and current Senate Armed Services Committee member, said the Corps is “ideally suited for the mission in Afghanistan.”
“The fact that the Marine Corps brings its air assets with it as a part of the Marine Corps is, I think, really suited to the type of operations they do in Afghanistan,” Webb said.
Retired Col. Gary Wilson, an Iraq veteran who’s written extensively on fourth-generation warfare, said the deployment of Marines to Afghanistan “makes sense.”
“When you look at it from a roles and missions standpoint, we’re doing the Army’s role in Iraq,” such as nation-building. “The biggest loss for the Marine Corps because of Iraq is the loss of its [Marine air ground task force] heritage.”
There are 300 Marines deployed among the roughly 26,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to Marine Corps headquarters. The service first forayed into Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, reaching more than 400 miles inland with a force trained for a variety of conventional and special-operations-type missions in Kandahar province.
Wilson noted that the Corps’ on-scene commander at the time, then-Brig. Gen. Jim Mattis, led Task Force 58 and “had seven ships assigned to him.” The force also included the 15th and 26th Marine expeditionary units.
In Afghanistan, “the Marines were engaged in the right way,” Wilson said. “That’s exactly the route the Marine Corps needs to go to get back to it.”
But a former Marine officer with combat experience in Afghanistan who now works as a security contractor in the region said operating there as a MAGTF is unrealistic for the Corps at this point, with its aging aircraft fleet.
“For the leadership to pitch MAGTF is gimmickry and not reality on the ground,” he said. “The sad truth is that the MAGTF was not effective at those altitudes — Marines were.”
The officer, who asked to remain anonymous because of the conflict with his civilian job, said the mission is more suited to a joint air-ground task force operation, employing “B1s, A10s, Apaches, AC-130s.”
“The CH-53 was very successful, but there are not enough of them,” he said. “The CH-46 is worthless and old at those altitudes. ... Can the Osprey operate there?”
The bulk of the Corps’ forces in Iraq are in Anbar province, a region that has become relatively stable since July, when Sunni sheiks and community leaders agreed to fight the al-Qaida-backed insurgency.
During testimony before Congress on Sept. 10, Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, described Anbar as “transformed.”
“A year ago, the province was assessed as ‘lost’ politically. Today, it is a model of what happens when local leaders and citizens decide to oppose al-Qaida and reject its Taliban-like ideology,” Petraeus said. “It does demonstrate the dramatic change in security that is possible with the support and participation of local citizens.”
Anbar province encompasses the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. Marines have been in the region since 2004, playing a major role in offensive operations to reclaim Fallujah and fighting insurgents for control of the 84,000-square-mile area.
As part of the U.S. troop surge in December 2006, an additional 4,000 Marines deployed to the area. In September, Petraeus recommended a plan to begin removing troops from Iraq — a move supported by President Bush. Roughly 2,200 members of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit are slated to return this month; an additional 5,700 Marines will come home in December.
Next year, force levels equaling four Army brigades and two Marine infantry battalions would leave, according to Petraeus’ plan.
The Marine Corps’ top planner said Sept. 24 that he welcomes the troop realignment and added that together with the planned increase of 27,000 in the next five years, the Corps will be able to return to its historic duties as an expeditionary force.
“Engagement is so, so important,” Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski said. “We need to get Marines back on ships in MEUs, in security cooperation Marine air ground task forces, doing medical and dental training, maybe digging some wells. That’s what combatant commanders want. That’s what we plan to do.”
Staff writers Gidget Fuentes, Sean Naylor, Michael Hoffman, John Hoellwarth, William H. McMichael and C. Mark Brinkley contributed to this report.
10-14-07, 05:21 PM #2
Generals in Joint Staff, Army skeptical of Corps takeover in Afghanistan
By Sean D. Naylor - email@example.com
Posted : October 22, 2007
Generals in the Army and on the Joint Staff reacted with surprise at a Marine Corps move to assume the Army’s combat role in Afghanistan and expressed doubt that the Corps could handle the mission without substantial support from the Army.
The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times reported Oct. 11 that the Corps has floated the idea of removing its estimated 25,000 troops in Iraq and taking over the mission in Afghanistan, where there are no significant Marine forces now.
“This is not going to go down well with the Army,” a general on the Joint Staff said, adding that the issue “is going to be more contentious and sensitive than many people outside of the inside team realize.”
Several generals who spoke on condition of anonymity said the initiative runs counter to the military’s increasingly joint approach to warfare.
“The fact that a service would propose somehow that their service would take over a war seems to me to fly in the face of everything that’s been done since Goldwater-Nichols was passed in 1986,” a retired Army general with Afghanistan experience said, referring to legislation mandating integration of the services’ capabilities. “There are some extraordinarily obvious flaws in this. The Marines don’t bring any of the infrastructure, logistics, aviation, all of the other enablers that are necessary to fight in this environment successfully.”
The Joint Staff general noted that although Marine combat formations are organized on deployments into Marine air ground task forces, which combine ground maneuver forces with fixed-wing air support, “the MAGTF is not designed to do sustained operations inland without any extensive Army support as well as Navy support.”
Marine expeditionary units are designed to be self-sustaining for 30 days and Marine expeditionary brigades for 60 days, he said. For longer deployments, the Army is obliged “by law” to provide logistical support to the Marines, he added.
An active-duty Army general with recent Afghanistan experience said the Corps lacked much of the equipment that allowed the Army to fight effectively in Afghanistan. For instance, he said Marine helicopters are not as capable as the Army’s.
The Corps’ twin-rotor CH-46 is not considered as strong as its Army equivalent, the CH-47 Chinook, a critical factor when operating in the rugged mountainous terrain of eastern Afghanistan.
“If you’re along the [Pakistan] border ... you’d better have the capability to get up around 10,000 feet,” the Army general said. “It’s a tough fight in Afghanistan. ... It’s not a cakewalk by any measure, and if you’re not geared appropriately, it’s even harder.”
The generals also expressed concern that the Corps’ seven-month rotations are ill-suited to the demands of a counterinsurgency campaign in which nurturing relationships with local figures over long periods can be the key to victory. Army units deploy to Afghanistan for at least 15 months.
“Marines rotate for seven months,” the retired general said. “That’s extraordinarily disruptive in a counterinsurgency campaign. The [Army] brigade that just came out of Afghanistan was there for 16 months.”
“The Afghans, they have the utmost respect for the United States military and they don’t want you to leave,” the active-duty Army general with recent Afghanistan experience said. “If you’re constantly churning at six months or seven months, as the Marines are doing now ... people aren’t going to connect with you, and you’ll lose some of those gains.”
Army Gen. Dan McNeill commands NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and is the overall commander of 26,000 U.S. troops in the country. But if the Corps provided the bulk of the U.S. combat forces, it might push for one of its own to be given that four-star command slot, the retired Army general with Afghanistan experience said.
The generals also took umbrage at the implication in the newspaper stories announcing the Marine initiative that it was Marines who played the leading role in fostering the “Anbar awakening” that saw local Sunni tribes switch sides and take up arms against al-Qaida in Iraq. They said much of the credit belonged to Army Col. Sean McFarland and his 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division.
“There is concern [among Army officers] that we’re overplaying the Marines’ assertion that they’re the masters of counterinsurgency and they might be trying to export that into Afghanistan,” the retired Army general said.
The active-duty Army general with recent Afghanistan experience said there appeared to be a lack of analysis underpinning the reported Marine initiative.
“The question that has to be asked is: Do they have the command and control, logistics and equipment architecture to conduct this fight?” he said. “You have to do a troop-to-task analysis on the ground in Afghanistan and work it backwards, and then say, what is the right force for this mission? As opposed to making a strategic announcement that this is where we want to go, and then trying to make it fit.”
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