Afghanistan’s Plains

In a rare move, the commandant of the Marine Corps held a media roundtable Aug. 27. The out-of-character display underscored the importance of the occasion. 

Gen. James T. Conway was making the case to move the Gun Club from Iraq to Afghanistan. But this is not the first time he has pushed to move the Corps to shore up efforts against the Taliban. Conway has been shot down in the past, which makes this end run (?) of particular interest.

Conway has argued in the past for moving all his Marines from Iraq to Afghanistan. Defense Secretary and occasional superhero Robert M. Gates put the brakes on that last fall saying not on his watch. Whether his reasons were rooted in sound military doctrine or were more of a political nature is anyone’s guess. (Sort of like the Republic of Georgia trying to put the kibosh on the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But we digress.)

On Aug. 26, Conway announced Marines are handing Anbar (Iraq) over to the Iraqi forces, potentially freeing up the 25,000 Marines in the region to head to Afghanistan. He noted U.S. commanders on the ground in Afghanistan have said their troop strength there is too small. Conway also mentioned Marines currently in Afghanistan already have had their tours extended in the western region and especially challenging southern region. (That’s where our bud and baby Army brigadier John Nicholson is slated to go as possibly deputy commander of Regional Command South. Nicholson, you might recall, was in the thick of the controversy that saw the expulsion of the Marine Special Operations Company from Afghanistan in March 2007 following a deadly ambush that left 19 Afghans dead.)

Though 25,000 seems like overkill (no pun) in a now relatively stable Anbar, we would think our planning honchos remain concerned about the permanency of those gains if the Marine presence fades. Conway says he wants to go where the fight is (and if they got along better, we’d guess he’d been talking to U.S. Joint Forces Command chief Marine Gen. James N. “I Like Brawlin” Mattis.)

Conway’s move appears bold and his sentiments too rarely are conveyed by military leaders. His gunslingers probably let out a grunt or two from the streets of Anbar or from the mountains where they are training for possible deployment to Afghanistan.

But as the Christian Science Monitor points out, does a massing of bodies a strategy make? Probably not. And though we don’t know what deal was struck with Gates (his “watch” will end in January) Conway’s move makes for great drama.

The Gun Club is back. “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.”

Tripoli, not Gallipoli.

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