Marines plan to deploy 15,000 to Afghanistan

LA Times:

Reporting from Marine Headquarters At Al Asad, Iraq -- Marine Corps leaders are devising a plan to send thousands of additional combat troops to Afghanistan to wage aggressive warfare against the Taliban that they expect could take years.

The Marines would like to deploy more than 15,000 troops if Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, newly named head of the U.S. Central Command, approve. About 2,300 Marines have already been sent to Afghanistan to replace units from Twentynine Palms, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., that are returning home after eight months.

Gates said Friday that he wanted to supplement the more than 30,000 American troops, mostly from the Army, already in Afghanistan. An additional 30,000 troops from other North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries and allies are also stationed in Afghanistan to combat the Taliban and other Islamist insurgent forces.

The office of President Hamid Karzai said Sunday that President-elect Barack Obama called Karzai during the weekend to say his administration would dedicate additional aid to fight militants in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported.

The Marine proposal was sharpened during a series of meetings in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bahrain in the last week involving generals and other top officers. Marine Commandant Gen. James T. Conway was in contact with a group headed by Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commanding general of the Marine Force Central Command, traveling from base to base.

"Treat every day as a combat mission," Helland wrote in a battle plan for one of his commanders. "Have a plan to kill the enemy hiding among the innocent."

The Marines have long made no secret of their desire to depart from Iraq and redeploy to Afghanistan, where they were the first conventional U.S. troops in 2001 to invade the country to assist local forces in toppling the Taliban regime.

Finding troops will not be easy unless there is a significant drawdown in Iraq, where Marines have been deployed to Anbar province, west of Baghdad, since 2004. The Marines have about 22,000 troops in the sprawling province, assigned mostly to back up Iraqi security forces if the Sunni Arab insurgency attempts to rebound.

Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the top Marine in Iraq, who met with Helland last week, said there could be a "significant" reduction in Anbar within months without endangering progress made toward routing the insurgency and strengthening the Iraqi economy, political structure and security forces.


In his orders to Col. Duffy White, commander of an air-ground task force deployed recently to Afghanistan, Helland warned that Afghanistan would be different because of its terrain, politics and culture and the presence of the coalition formed by NATO, the Afghan army and the U.S.


If upper officers are keen on going to Afghanistan, so are many of the young Marines in Iraq. As Helland met with corporals and sergeants there, several offered to reenlist if they could be assured of going to Afghanistan, where they face a much higher probability of engaging in combat.

For the Marines, there is a sense of unfinished business in Afghanistan. In early December 2001, soon after the Taliban government was routed, Marines were part of a plan to attack the mountains of the Tora Bora region where Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was believed to be.

But even as Marines waited at Kandahar airport to board helicopters, U.S. officials called off the attack, preferring that Afghan forces finish the task of capturing or killing Bin Laden and his top lieutenants. Instead, Bin Laden and many of the others escaped and are still at large.

Marines are always looking for an opportunity to destroy the enemy and they know that the best chance of doing that now is in Afghanistan. Clearly it is not just the brass that is interested in joining that battle.

It will be a very different war. The terrain favors an insurgency. It is much easier to hide in the mountains and caves than in the desert. Never bet against the Marines in a fight. They will find a way to win.


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