The Future of the Marines

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 10 months ago

In Marines or State Department: Who Does Afghanistan?, we discussed the newest thinking of the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps: Afghanistan.  He has floated the idea of replacing the Army under NATO command and taking full charge of the combat operations there.

This proposal has ruffled some feathers and turned some heads.

Generals in the Army and on the Joint Staff reacted with surprise at a Marine Corps move to assume the Army’s combat role in Afghanistan and expressed doubt that the Corps could handle the mission without substantial support from the larger ground service …

“This is not going to go down well with the Army,? said a general on the Joint Staff, adding that the issue “is going to be more contentious and sensitive than many people outside of the inside team realize.?

The Joint Staff officer was one of several generals who spoke only on the condition of anonymity and said the Marine initiative to supplant the Army in Afghanistan runs counter to the U.S. military’s increasingly joint approach to warfare.

“We’re seeking joint solutions to most of the challenges we face today, to include Afghanistan and Iraq,? he said. “A single service approach? Holy smokes. Why would we ever go back to that way of war fighting, particularly when it doesn’t give you any advantage over your enemy and in fact complicates life tremendously in terms of sorting out how you’re going to support all of this??

A retired Army general with Afghanistan experience agreed. “The fact that a service would propose somehow that their service would take over a war seems to me to fly in the face of everything that’s been done since Goldwater-Nichols was passed in 1986,? he said, referring to legislation mandating integration of the capabilities of the military services.

Yes, this is true, and with General James Mattis, a Marine, selected to head U.S. Joint Forces Command, we should expect a renewed push in this area.  However, joint solutions doesn’t necessarily mean that both services are combined in the same strengths at the same location at the same time for the same purposes.  Furthermore, 1986 was a long time ago, and the world has changed since then, with the Army reeling from 15 months deployments and in need of recuperation.  Continuing, the detractors answer their own questions.

However, he said, “there’s going to be a tremendous number of Army soldiers out there, even if, quote unquote, the Marines take over the mission,? because the Marines would have to rely on the Army for support in Afghanistan.

“There are some extraordinarily obvious flaws in this,? the retired Army general said. “The Marines don’t bring any of the infrastructure, logistics, aviation, all of the other enablers that are necessary to fight in this environment successfully.?

The Joint Staff general noted that although the Marine combat formations are organized on deployments into Marine air-ground task forces, or MAGTFs (pronounced mag-taffs), which combine ground maneuver forces with fixed-wing air support. “The MAGTF is not designed to do sustained operations inland without any extensive Army support as well as Navy support,? he said

Marine units are designed to be self-sustaining for up to 30 days in the case of a Marine expeditionary unit and 60 days in the case of a Marine expeditionary brigade, he said. For longer deployments, the Army is obliged “by law? to provide logistical support to the Marines, he added.

Again, yes, just like the Army supported Regimental Combat Team 6 in the Fallujah area  of operations with transport, medical, intelligence, public affairs, and administration (integrated into RCT-6), they will likely be integrated into any long term operation in which the Marines engage.  The question is one of primary role in combat operations.  Who will own it?  Will the Army better recuperate in (increasingly) soft counterinsurgency operations in Iraq with the addition of the troops from the Afghanistan theater?  This is the question to be answered.

Yet in an interesting and untimely (or timely?) recent revelation, the Marine Corps Commandant says that he is afraid that the Corps is growing heavy.

Commandant Gen. James Conway said Monday he is concerned about the Marines Corps’ ability to respond to security flare-ups around the world on short notice because of the demands put on it by the Iraq war.

In recent years, the Marine Corps has emerged as a “second land Army” tasked with securing Iraq and must buy heavy equipment, including a fleet of 3,700 mine-resistant vehicles, to protect its personnel from roadside bombs, Conway said.

“I’m a little bit concerned about us keeping our expeditionary flavor. … We are much heavier than ever before,” he said at a lunch sponsored by the Center for New American Security.

Afghanistan would be a change, with the emphasis being placed on cold weather and mountain combat rather than 125 degree F heat and urban terrain.  Perhaps General Conway doesn’t want the Corps to become too complacent and accustomed to one locale and one type of operation.

Exactly where Conway wants the Corps to go is not entirely clear at this moment.  The Marines go through this every few years or so, and emerge better than before.  In addition to being the greatest combat force in the world, they are a soul searching organization.  We expect Conway eventually to clear this up and give his reports coordinates for the future.

  • http://www.fumento.com fumento

    Well, the amphibious landing thing is kind of dead and anyway, as the Army showed in WWII, they can do amphibious landings too — although it’s hard to believe the Marines would have screwed up so badly at Anzio. My father was serving in Italy at the time and probably came close to being thrown into that fight. Which quite possibly means I wouldn’t be here today to make this post.


You are currently reading "The Future of the Marines", entry #654 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Marine Corps and was published October 17th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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