Jan 24, 2009

More Marines to the 'Stan !!

Marines Propose Iraq Withdrawal, Shift To Afghanistan In '09
Wall Street Journal
January 24, 2009
By Yochi J. Dreazen

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Marine Corps is proposing to completely withdraw from Iraq later this year and shift 20,000 Marines to Afghanistan, boosting the Obama administration's plan to devote significant new resources to the Afghan war.

Gen. James Conway, the top Marine commander, said Friday that the combat portion of the Iraq war was effectively over. "The time is right for Marines in general terms to leave Iraq," he told reporters. "A building fight taking place in another locale -- that's really where Marines need to be."

On Friday, U.S.-fired missiles killed 18 people on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border, in the first attacks on the militant stronghold since President Barack Obama took office. The strikes from unmanned CIA planes confirm that Mr. Obama, as expected, is continuing the Bush Administration's attacks in the ungoverned tribal regions.

The Bush administration had devoted the vast bulk of the nation's military resources to the war in Iraq. Mr. Obama has made clear that he sees Afghanistan as a higher priority, and has promised to withdraw all U.S. combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.

Pentagon officials are drawing up plans to shift up to 30,000 new troops in Afghanistan in coming months. White House aides say that Mr. Obama, who as a candidate called for a shift of roughly similar scale, is likely to approve the request.

"The president has been quite clear that the mission is to responsibly draw down and end our active combat role [in Iraq]," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday. "He wants to put more emphasis on Afghanistan and deal with the problems ... and the challenges that we face in Afghanistan."

The new president will have to make some difficult trade-offs. The military is facing significant manpower strains because of the demands of the two long wars. "Anything that you put into Afghanistan must necessarily come from a reduction of the number of Marines in Iraq," Gen. Conway said. There are currently 22,000 Marines there.

Many uniformed officers in Iraq -- including Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander there -- want to keep troop levels relatively steady to avoid jeopardizing Iraq's recent security gains.

Shortly after the election, military commanders briefed Mr. Obama on an initial plan to withdraw roughly 10,000 troops from Iraq by the summer. But now senior military officials are crafting plans for faster and larger withdrawals. One of the options would remove all U.S. combat troops within 16 months.

Gen. Conway said Mr. Obama would visit the Pentagon next week to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A White House aide said the discussion would be devoted largely to troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gen. Conway said most of the 20,000 Marines likely to deploy to Afghanistan will head to the south, a Taliban stronghold at the heart of the country's booming narcotics trade.

U.S. commanders there say the Taliban run shadow governments and drug revenue allows them to replenish supplies. "When you've got those two elements you've got the potential for a long-term insurgency," Gen. Conway said.

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