9 years, 5 months ago
Could the Marines be headed to Afghanistan?
The Marine Corps is pressing to remove its forces from Iraq and to send marines instead to Afghanistan, to take over the leading role in combat there, according to senior military and Pentagon officials.
The idea by the Marine Corps commandant would effectively leave the Iraq war in the hands of the Army while giving the Marines a prominent new role in Afghanistan, under overall NATO command.
The suggestion was raised in a session last week convened by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and regional war-fighting commanders. While still under review, its supporters, including some in the Army, argue that a realignment could allow the Army and Marines each to operate more efficiently in sustaining troop levels for two wars that have put a strain on their forces.
As described by officials who had been briefed on the closed-door discussion, the idea represents the first tangible new thinking to emerge since the White House last month endorsed a plan to begin gradual troop withdrawals from Iraq, but also signals that American forces likely will be in Iraq for years to come.
At the moment, there are no major Marine units among the 26,000 or so American forces in Afghanistan. In Iraq there are about 25,000 marines among the 160,000 American troops there.
After the biggest opium harvest in Afghanistan’s history, American officials have renewed efforts to persuade the government here to begin spraying herbicide on opium poppies, and they have found some supporters within President Hamid Karzai’s administration, officials of both countries said.
Since early this year, Mr. Karzai has repeatedly declared his opposition to spraying the poppy fields, whether by crop-dusting airplanes or by eradication teams on the ground.
But Afghan officials said the Karzai administration is now re-evaluating that stance. Some proponents within the government are pushing a trial program of ground spraying that could begin before the harvest next spring.
The issue has created sharp divisions within the Afghan government, among its Western allies and even American officials of different agencies. The matter is fraught with political danger for Mr. Karzai, whose hold on power is weak.
And why would they willingly choose to do something like this?
Many spraying advocates, including officials at the White House and the State Department, view herbicides as critical to curbing Afghanistan’s poppy crop, officials said. That crop and the opium and heroin it produces have become a major source of revenue for the Taliban insurgency.
But officials said the skeptics — who include American military and intelligence officials and European diplomats in Afghanistan — fear that any spraying of American-made chemicals over Afghan farms would be a boon to Taliban propagandists. Some of those officials say that the political cost could be especially high if the herbicide destroys food crops that farmers often plant alongside their poppies.
“There has always been a need to balance the obvious greater effectiveness of spray against the potential for losing hearts and minds,