Marines Will Remain in Southern Afghanistan For Years: Conway

Being an outgoing Marine Corps Commandant gives you a hell of a lot more leeway in calling it like you see it. Short timer CMC Gen. James Conway has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Obama administration’s push to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Today, the typically (and now, with his post-retirement fishing hole in sight, even more so) blunt spoken Conway took aim at the administration’s Afghanistan policy, saying the July 2011 withdrawal deadline may be boosting Taliban morale. “In some ways, we think right now, its probably giving our enemy sustenance… we’ve intercepted communications that say, “Hey we only have to hold out for so long.”

Yet, the enemy is getting tired, Conway said, recent interrogations of Taliban prisoners show a level of exhaustion and frustration with the endless fighting, “they’re getting hammered.” U.S. and NATO troops have wrenched the initiative from the Taliban, he said, constant strikes against Taliban supply lines have made it harder for them to move bomb making materials to the battlefield.

The 2011 withdrawal date really doesn’t mean much to his Marines fighting in southern Helmand province, Conway said, as they’re not going anywhere for years to come. It will be years before the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan will allow the Marines to turn over security to Afghan troops. The CMC’s message was meant for his Marines as much as anybody else, saying they must adjust their “mindset” for a prolonged stay in Afghanistan.

Conway said fighting in the pivotal town of Marja continues, with insurgents operating mostly in the shadows to intimidate local Afghans. The clear part of the “clear, hold, build” approach went well there, he said. The Taliban are unwilling to admit defeat, however, and are determined to prevent the Marines in Marja from declaring victory. He guessed there were around a “couple hundred” insurgents in Marja.

Conway added that the Marines don’t have a problem with the often contentious and highly restrictive rules of engagement.

-- Greg Grant

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