Tony Perry has a fascinating piece in the Los Angeles Times today about an inchoate plan by the Marine Corps to send as many as 15,000 Marines to Afghanistan over the next however-many months. That would be almost fifty percent more troops than the U.S. has in Afghanistan currently. Wow.
Basically, the Marines have wanted out of Iraq since earlier this year — and into Afghanistan, where the service figures the real action is. The problem is there are over 20,000 Marines in the now-much-calmer Anbar Province, which largely precludes a substantial deployment to Afghanistan, unless — as if by magic! — Marine commanders in Anbar figure the province is calm enough to allow for a shift eastward. And sure enough:
Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the top Marine in Iraq, who met with Helland last week, said there could be a “significant” reduction in Anbar within months without endangering progress made toward routing the insurgency and strengthening the Iraqi economy, political structure and security forces.
Kelly, in an interview, said his views were not prompted by the Marine Corps’ desire to redeploy to Afghanistan.
I’ll take him at his word. So Anbar is secure enough to allow for a larger drawdown; and that in turn seeds the bed for a larger complement of Marines in eastern Afghanistan. And all of that happens to reflect a consensus among President-elect Obama, Defense Secretary Bob Gates, Central Command chief David Petraeus and Afghanistan war commander David McKiernan that Afghanistan has to become a U.S. priority again.
Interestingly, one of the important figures in this emerging plan is a Marine general named Samuel Helland, who runs the Marine Corps component at Central Command, known as MARCENT. Helland seems to take the sensible position that what worked in Iraq won’t necessarily work in Afghanistan:
Iraq veterans should not be allowed to rest on the laurels of their success in Anbar, wrote the blunt-spoken Midwesterner and combat veteran of Vietnam. “Once a mistake is made, the excuse ‘This is how we did it in Iraq’ will not suffice,” Helland wrote.