By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, July 17, 2014 – America expects its Marine Corps to be second to none, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee today, and if he’s confirmed as the service’s next commandant, he vowed, the Marine Corps would continue to live up to that expectation.
Dunford, currently the commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, would succeed Gen. James F. Amos as Marine Corps commandant if the Senate confirms his nomination. The commandant also serves as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Marine Corps is the smallest armed service in the Defense Department and serves as a naval expeditionary force in readiness, Dunford said. “You expect your Marines to demonstrate courage, honor and commitment,” he added. “You expect a lot of your Marines, and you should.”
If confirmed, Dunford said, “I will ensure that Marines continue to meet your expectations and the expectations of the American people.”
The confirmation hearing was friendly, and many senators praised Dunford’s work in Afghanistan. The majority of the senators’ questions were about Afghanistan, and that country was also on the general’s mind.
“I’d also like to recognize the 1,817 Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and the nearly 20,000 who have been wounded,” he said. “Each day, the men and women of the United States forces in Afghanistan work to bring meaning to their sacrifice.”
When Dunford took command in Afghanistan 18 months ago, more than 100,000 American service members were in the country. Today, that number is 30,000, and it’s due to drop to 9,800 by the end of the year. “I think one of the most significant outcomes of our time in Afghanistan has been that we put pressure on the terrorist networks and al-Qaida and prevented another 9/11,” the general said.
As the numbers of coalition and partner troops declined, the security situation in the country actually improved, the general said, crediting the development of capable and credible Afghan forces. “In 2002, there were no effective Afghan security forces,” he said. “There is today an army and a police force of over 352,000, as well as another 30,000 Afghan local police that are capable of providing security to the Afghan people.”
Afghan forces gave the Afghan people the security needed to conduct elections in April and June, he noted. That security has also provided other signs of progress in the nation, he said. “We have, today, over 8 million children in school -- 2 million of those, young girls,” Dunford said.
Advances in health care, communications and road networks also have taken place, the general told the senators. “But I would say that the most profound thing that exists in Afghanistan today that didn’t exist in 2001 is hope,” he added. “The Afghan people actually have hope and confidence in the future that didn’t exist under the oppression and the tyranny of the Taliban in 2001.”
Dunford said he agrees with President Barack Obama’s decision to draw down U.S. forces to 9,800 through the end of the year. The president’s plan calls on U.S. force levels then to be reduced by half at the end of 2015, and essentially having a military presence only in the U.S. Embassy by 2017.
Post-2014, U.S. forces will be on the ground to conduct counterterrorism operations and to train, advise and assist Afghan forces, Dunford said. These plans still must constantly be validated, he added, and if the assumptions underlying these recommendations change, then the plan itself must.
One of his assumptions is that the full 9,800 Americans would be in Afghanistan through the end of the 2015 fighting season, the general told the committee. Other critical assumptions include the counterterrorism capability and the will of Afghan forces, as well as the nature of the threat.
“The counterterrorism capacity and the will of Pakistan also need to be considered,” he said. “The quality of political transition that we’re in the midst of has to be considered.
Finally, the international community’s support and commitment in support of the NATO mission has to be considered, he said.
“I think all of those are variables that would have to be considered when determining the adequacy of our force levels in the future,” he told the Senate panel.
No military leader has recommended that the United States draw down to zero troops in Afghanistan by 2017, Dunford said. “Every military leader would want to have the conditions on the ground and the assumptions be revalidated as a transition takes place,” he added.
Dunford also addressed a number of other topics, including:
-- The balance between readiness and modernization;
-- The effect of sequestration spending cuts on the force;
-- The lessons of Iraq for Afghanistan; and
-- The importance of Pakistan to stability in Central and South Asia.
Dunford also pledged to continue efforts to eradicate sexual assault In the Marine Corps.
“So the effect that we’re trying to achieve in establishing the command climate, the effect we’re trying to achieve in ensuring that we have bystander training and bystander intervention, the effect that we’re trying to achieve to ensure that all Marines are treated with dignity and respect, the results that we expect out of all of that and the results we expect from decisive leadership, is that we won’t have sexual assaults in the United States Marine Corps,” he said, “and I think that’s when we'll be satisfied.”