WASHINGTON — The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps said Friday that he wants to move Marines from Iraq to Afghanistan and has asked the Pentagon for a measured commitment there that allows Marines to deploy for 7 months and have 14 months at home, allowing the force to catch up on years of lost training and time home with their families.

"The time is right for Marines in general terms to leave Iraq," Gen. James Conway told reporters at a breakfast briefing.

Conway, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the service leaders have been meeting on Afghanistan for quite some time, anticipating the arrival of President Barack Obama’s administration. While no decisions have been made, Conway expected the chiefs to have their first sit-down with the president next week.

"I think it’s fair to say it won’t be long before we think we have a plan that we can perhaps go into execution on," he said, without offering details. Conway said that while the Marines can pull combat forces out of Iraq rapidly, the equipment left behind, some of which they have begun removing on their own, could be out completely in six to eight months, once given the command.

The commandant repeated themes he has expressed publicly before, including his belief that Marines are best suited for expeditionary operations such as are required in Afghanistan, rather than the nation-building hold on security required in Iraq.

"That’s really where Marines need to be. That’s really what we offer the nation. That’s really why a young man or woman joins the Corps."

Conway also said he has continued to urge Defense Secretary Robert Gates to shift Marines from Iraq to Afghanistan and to avoid extended deployments.

"We’ve appealed to his sensibilities to say: ‘Sir, anything that you put into Afghanistan must necessarily come as a reduction of Marine forces in Iraq.’"

Most importantly, he added, "It gives us a chance to do some of the training we have just not been doing now for the last four of five years," including amphibious, mountain, and other cold weather training. "We used to do 10 combined-arms, live-fire maneuvers a year at a place called Twentynine Palms (in California). We don’t do any now."

Those are the core skills of Marines, he said, that "need to be enhanced, dusted off, and made whole again. And we need time to be able to do that."

Speaking at the end of weeklong inauguration festivities, Conway said he felt Marines had "a sense of optimism and encouragement" about their new commander-in-chief. "They’re caught up like the rest of us with the excitement of the event."

As for his own feelings, Conway praised Obama’s decision to retain Gates. "He has in his Cabinet, a soldier, a sailor and a Marine. … I find that pretty encouraging," he said

Asked to gauge how Marines are reacting to news of a possible policy change on the don’t ask, don’t tell treatment of gays in the military, Conway said that he doesn’t feel it is on the minds of Marines, but added in a measured tone, "It is a big deal. From what I have seen, the Obama administration has done a good job with its homework, looking at how previous administrations have snapped in, and they seem to be consciously avoiding some of those potential pitfalls. So I think we need to give them credit for that."

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