Marines’ new leader sees need for growth of Corps

The Washington Times Weekly - - From Page One -

TheU.S.MarineCorps­mayneed to grow to sus­tain com­mit­ments in Iraq and Afghanistan and re­main ready for other crises, the force’s new com­man­dant said Nov. 22.

Gen. James T. Con­way also said he saw a mis­match be­tween the views of his troops and those of Amer­i­can civil­ians on the time needed to train Iraqi forces and the na­ture of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gen. Con­way said the Marines’ cur­rent strength of around 180,000 troops was suf­fi­cient for peace­time, but he added: “Where the force is en­gaged and is more stressed, I think that that num­ber needs to some­what be more vari­able.”

Com­mit­ments in Iraq and Afghanistan meant the Marines were well be­low their tar­get of al­low­ing units to spend 14 months at home for ev­ery seven-month de­ploy­ment, Gen. Con­way said.

Gen. Con­way, who took over as Marine Corps com­man­dant two weeks ago, said he had asked his staff to work out how to achieve the tar­get and meet the Marines’ re­quire­ments to the coun­try.

“There’s two ways that you approach that — one is re­duc­ing the re­quire­ment, the other is po­ten­tially grow­ing the force for what we call the long war,” he told re­porters at the Pen­tagon.

Gen. Con­way noted sev­eral groups _ in­clud­ing a bi­par­ti­san panel co-chaired by for­mer Sec­re­tary of State James A. Baker III — are pre­par­ing ad­vice on Iraq strat­e­gyand­said­he­woul­dawait­the­out­come of that process be­fore mak­ing any rec­om­men­da­tions.

Gen. Con­way said he had enough forces for an­other cri­sis, but train­ing for fight­ing such as jun­gle war­fare­and­large-scale­ma­neu­ver­shad been se­verely lim­ited by Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Our Marine Corps has be­come, I think, a very coun­terin­sur­gen­cy­ca­pable force, but we’re not pro­vid­ing to the na­tion some of the other things that we should be able to do in vir­tu­ally any other na­ture of con­tin­gency,” he said.

There­are23,000Mari­nesinIraq and 150 in Afghanistan, al­though they have had larger con­tin­gents there in the past.

The Marines’ main pres­ence in Iraq is in the restive west­ern prov­ince of An­bar, where they are fo­cus­ing on train­ing Iraqi se­cu­rity forces to take on in­sur­gents.

Gen. Con­way said train­ing Iraqi forces was a long process and in­di­cated some con­cern that Amer­i­can pub­lic opin­ion was not pre­pared to give U.S. forces the time needed to do the job.

“Un­for­tu­nately, I think that the time­line that we see that it would take to build a fully ca­pa­ble, com­pe­tent force and for us to feel com­fort­a­blestep­pin­g­away­is­longerthan the time­line that we prob­a­bly feel now that our coun­try will sup­port,” he said.

Crit­ics of the Iraq war say it has been a di­ver­sion from the fight against al Qaeda, but Gen. Con­way said the Marines were killing peo­ple in Iraq who would oth­er­wise be try­ing to “work their way into Bal­ti­more Har­bor or Los An­ge­les air­port.”

But he said he was not sure or­di­nary Amer­i­cans shared that view, de­spite ef­forts by Pres­i­dent Bush and many oth­ers.

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