Impatience With Progress in Iraq Troubles Marine Commandant
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 18, 2007 Many Marines are concerned that Americans aren’t willing to invest enough time for success in Iraq, the Corps’ top officer said here yesterday.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway makes a point during a May 17 media roundtable at the Pentagon. The general answered reporters’ questions on a broad range of Marine Corps issues and programs. Photo by R.D. Ward
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway told Pentagon reporters that defense officials must do a better job of communicating to the American people the cost of leaving Iraq too soon.
While Americans disagree on the reasons for going into Iraq, there is much more agreement on what would happen if coalition forces left before achieving success, Conway said.
Americans have to understand that defeating an insurgency is a long-term proposition, he said.
“Historically, (defeating insurgents) has (taken) somewhere between nine and 10 years, with various levels of effort,” he said. “I think that there is less of an appetite in our country than we the military might think we need to sustain that kind of effort over that period of time.”
The general said coalition forces in Iraq see incremental daily progress. “They want to be able to sustain that progress, because they want to be able to succeed and come out with our credibility high and the credibility of the United States … where it was when we went in,” he said. “So in that context, I think that our servicemen and women would wish for as much time as it takes to do the job, realizing that incremental progress will one day take us over the top.”
Conway, who has been commandant for about six months, said he is encouraged by coalition progress in Iraq’s Anbar province.
“What we are seeing transpire in the al Anbar province today is a clear, discernible wedge between the Sunni tribes and the al Qaeda in Iraq,” he said. “It has taken four years for these folks to realize that the al Qaeda in Iraq could offer no more than a future filled with fear and instability.”
Tribal leaders and sheikhs in the Sunni province have thrown their lots in with the Iraqi government. “Some very brave people have stepped up to speak out against al Qaeda and encourage their fellow tribesmen to work together toward an Iraq that is stable and at peace with its neighbors,” Conway said. “Now more than ever, it's imperative for the power of the (United States) to continue to support the people of Iraq economically, politically and militarily.”
Progress in Anbar province has been so great that it has changed strategy in the region, Conway said. At one point, U.S. and Iraqi officials viewed the situation in Anbar province as bleak and forecast that it would be the last province to transition to Iraqi provincial control. “That has changed,” Conway said. “We now have Sunnis in large numbers joining the Iraqi army in the al Anbar province. We have more Sunni tribesmen wanting to become police than we have the opportunity to train on a monthly basis.”
As part of the military surge to quell violence, two battalions are scheduled to go to the province. “Any plus-up effort … (is) in a very real sense reinforcing success,” Conway said.
The situation is so much better that the additional battalions may be shifted to other areas in the country, Conway said, adding that much of the province could fall under the control of the Iraqi police and army.
Conway said he is pleased with moves to rush procurement of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, which are more effective than up-armored Humvees at withstanding the deadly effects of roadside bombs. “These vehicles will truly have a positive impact on our ability to better protect our Marines and sailors operating at the tip of the spear,” the commandant said.
Conway also reported on efforts to increase the size of the Marine Corps to 202,000 personnel through 2011. Recruiters are doing a superb job in a constrained environment, Conway said. He noted that growing casualty lists have made it tougher for recruiters to convince “influencers” -- parents, coaches, teachers etc. -- to encourage qualified young Americans to consider the military.
Surveys show that the propensity for all major ethnic groups in the United States to join the all-volunteer military is down. Still, Conway has tasked recruiters with ensuring that the Marine Corps reflect the ethnic diversity of America, he said.