Nov. 22, 2006 – The Iraqi military is making progress in assuming the security mission in the country, but whether U.S. public opinion will allow the U.S. military to complete the training mission in Iraq is the real question, the Marine Corps commandant said here today. Gen. James T. Conway held a roundtable discussion with the Pentagon press corps. Training Iraqi security forces "is a long, slow process," Conway said. "Unfortunately, I think the timeline it would take to build a fully capable, competent force - and for us to feel comfortable in stepping away - is longer than the timeline than we feel now our country will support."
Conway said the government must ask more patience from the American people, "so when we do pull out of Iraq, we can do so and say it is successful and call it a win."
Counterinsurgency campaigns are long processes, he said. Historically, successful counterinsurgency efforts take nine to 12 years. Developing the military is only one part of that, Conway noted, pointing out that the Iraqi government must assert political control over the nation, too.
"This doesn't happen overnight," he said. "Your progress is incremental. You'll have setbacks, but you keep your shoulder to the wheel and you keep pushing. That's the attitude of the Marines out there. They are encouraged by the micro-successes they see, the relationships they build and the people they see step forward who want to fight for their own country."
Conway said he regards the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq as the first battles of the war on terror. He said it is important to win these battles. He related a clash in Azziziyah, southeast of Baghdad, in April 2003. Conway commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force during the initial push to Baghdad. He said a Marine unit ran up against a group of 300 enemy fighters who fought fanatically against the tanks of the 1st Marine Division. "The last squad of these guys died charging a couple of tanks (armed with) .50-caliber machine guns," he said. "They were absolute fanatics. For a unit that size to die at the base of those tanks was incredible."
Subsequent intelligence showed the enemy fighters were from all over the Middle East - Sudanese, Jordanians and Egyptians. He said the coalition has seen elements like this fighting in Iraq since then.
"We are engaged in a war on terrorism in Iraq," Conway said. "But I don't know that for all the president's efforts ... that we've been able to convince our people that these efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq are battles in the global war on terrorism.
"Somehow I don't think our people have made that connection and feel the same way that I do, and our troops do, that because there has not been an attack in this country is directly related to the fact that they are killing these ... fanatics who would otherwise be trying to work their way in to Baltimore harbor or Los Angeles airport," he said.
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