By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 5, 2007 - The idea of Marine units moving into Afghanistan to replace Army units is off the table for now, the commandant of the Marine Corps said here today. Gen. James T. Conway said he met with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and discussed the idea of Marine units moving to Afghanistan as they are drawn down from Iraq. "While it doesn't appear that additional Marine units will be needed in Afghanistan in the near future, we will continue to be ready to respond if called to serve," Conway said during a Pentagon news conference.
He and the secretary had a good exchange of ideas on the Marine proposal, Conway said. "My point to the secretary was when we are able to draw down in Iraq and it comes time for Marine units to leave the country – should we bring them home or should we start looking at putting them where there is still an active fight, in this case Afghanistan?" he said. "We were prepared to do that. That's why young Americans join the Marine Corps -- to fight for their country. I think if there's a fight going on, we need to be there."
The proposal wouldn't have kicked in right away, and would have depended on conditions in Iraq, the general explained. But the basis behind the proposal, he said, was that at some point in a drawdown from Iraq, the coalition would field long-term forces providing security, rather than forces fighting a war. Army forces, trained to the mission, probably would take over at that point.
Being a garrison force is not what the Marine Corps brings to the table, the commandant said. "We're expeditionary, and we do not get engaged in some of the long-term duties that you see in Germany, or Japan or Korea," Conway explained. "We are much more mobile than that, and we want to keep that mobility and that flexibility and not get tied down."
Conway said he and the secretary did not discuss exchanging soldiers for Marines. "That's still a possibility, I suppose, although there are equipment issues," Conway said.
When Army units move in, they can fall in on a previous unit's equipment. A Marine unit could not move into the same equipment set – especially in aviation and combat service support, Conway said. "It's probably not something the global force management board would see as worthwhile," he said.
The commandant said there is no move right now to draw down Marines forces in Iraq beyond what has already been announced. Most Marines are based in Anbar province, and it "is still a dangerous place," he said.
"We still get casualties there, but the trends continue to be very good and have been that way over a number of months, now," he added. "It's probably too early to draw down."
He said he will know more when Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker make their next report to Congress in the spring on conditions in Iraq.