Conway: Proposal to move Marines not a power grab
ARLINGTON, Va. — The proposal to remove Marines from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan is neither a power grab nor an attempt to get out of Iraq “while the getting is good,” according to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway.
In a visit to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in the aftermath of the San Diego County fires, Conway pushed back at critics of his plan to let the Army take responsibility for Iraq while the Marines focus on Afghanistan, playing a major role in the NATO mission there.
The proposal was raised in early October during a closed-door session with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and regional war-fighting commanders, according to an Oct. 10 New York Times story.
Since that story broke, “it has been suggested in some news articles I’ve read that we’re doing it for all the wrong reasons,” Conway told members of the 5th Marine Regiment on Oct. 26.
A member of the regiment had asked whether the Marines were in fact going to focus on Afghanistan exclusively; and if so, how it might affect the regiment’s upcoming deployment as part of the 11,000 troops from Camp Pendleton’s 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
The MEF is scheduled to leave for Iraq before the end of the year.
“I can’t talk too much” about the plan, Conway replied, “because we are preparing a brief that will go to the secretary of defense, who will make that determination.”
Gates has not publicly ruled out the possibility.
“I would say that if it happens, it’ll be long after I’m secretary of defense,” Gates said at an Oct. 18 press briefing.
However, Conway challenged what he said were assertions “that we wanted to somehow capture the four-star billet of the officer who’s in charge of International Security Assistance Forces,” or ISAF, NATO’s mission to Afghanistan.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
The Marines have only four, four-star officers at the present time, and only internal billets in which to place them: commandant and assistant commandant positions.
The other job openings are “joint” positions, such as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and controlled by the Secretary of Defense, not the Commandant.
So if the Marines were to snag the ISAF post, “after a year, I wouldn’t have a job for that guy,” Conway said, unless he is named to a joint billet.
“It’s been said that we are looking to get out of the Al Anbar Province while the getting is good,” Conway said.
“That makes absolutely no sense,” he said. “The Al Anbar Province is probably in better shape than any of us thought it would be at this point in time.”
The reason Anbar is in good shape, Conway said, is because for more than three years the Marines “have been in there, doing exactly the same thing, keeping a level of patience, keeping ourselves restrained, even though we lost Marines.”
“It’s not time to do dancing in the end zone,” Conway said. “But there’s a blood feud now between the Sunni sheiks and those al-Qaida, and there’s no way that they’re coming back.”