4 years, 10 months ago
Having been busy in the Anbar Province since 2004, the Marines had become a second land Army, or at least, so Commandant General James Conway had feared. We’ve been listening hard, and in the midst of seemingly disorganized talk about littoral combat, the force being “too heavy,” the need to go back to the Corps’ expeditionary roots, and the desire to leave Anbar and take on the task of Afghanistan, frankly it has been difficult to weave together a narrative for the future of the Corps.
Commandant Conway has taken a huge step forward in systematizing that vision with his presentation at the national symposium of the Surface Navy Association, even if he didn’t intend to address this point.
Marines shipping out to Afghanistan this year eventually will spend twice as much time at home as deployed, Commandant Gen. James Conway said Thursday.
Conway said he doesn’t know yet exactly how many Marines will go to Afghanistan, but he said it would be fewer than 20,000. And as the Corps swells to 202,000 active-duty Marines, a goal the service expects to reach later this year, those deployed troops could spend about 14 months at home for every seven months they spent in theater, he said.
But that’s only partly meant to afford troops more time off with their families, Conway said. Just as important, he wants Marines to have more time to train for operations they’ve been too busy for since the force has been locked down in Iraq.
“You don’t have time to do mountain warfare training, or jungle training, or cold weather training, and most importantly to us, we’re not doing amphibious training with our brothers in the Navy, because we just don’t have time,” he said. “Now, we’ve got to fix that.”
Conway made his presentation at the national symposium of the Surface Navy Association, outside Washington, D.C., to an audience composed mostly of active and retired naval officers and defense contractors.
Marines and other U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan “for some time to come,” Conway said, acknowledging that the situation there “will get worse before it gets better.” He hasn’t ruled out negotiations at some point with the resurgent Taliban fighters there, but the problem now is that the Taliban thinks it’s winning, Conway said, and it wants to bargain as the victor.
“Of course, we can’t allow them to do that,” he said.
Conway sees a Corps that has as many as (but no more than) 20,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the balance of the force Stateside for 14 months at a time. Not only is this time intended for family, but he sees retraining to conduct all manner of warfare, from conventional to COIN, from jungle to mountain and cold weather.
He wants a well-trained and rested force. This is a good vision. What isn’t apparent is whether his vision includes the Navy’s vision for littoral combat. It’s one thing to support amphibious warfare with amphibious assault docks, amphibious assault vehicles, helicopters, and all of the other things necessary to support a Marine expeditionary unit.
It’s quite another to buddy up with the Navy as it pursues its vision of littoral combat in the vicinity of near-failed states. At The Captain’s Journal we see jettisoning aircraft carriers, guided missile destroyers, and larger surface warfare as a very dubious proposition. Hopefully, Conway can find a way to partner with the Navy in preparation for amphibious warfare without involving the Corps in questionable programs in which the Corps has no business.
Finally, the amount of time preparing for amphibious warfare should be limited to be commensurate with the actual probability of engaging in such warfare. Jungle and cold weather mountain training makes sense. The Corps might actually be engaged in such things at any point as the ready reserve for CENTCOM. Unless we can find a nation-state against which we believe we might launch an amphibious assault, it’s prudent to spend less time and effort on it.