“The sky’s the limit,” even within an 18-month period, is the message Gen. James Conway conveyed in his Defense Department press briefing Dec. 15 when referring to operations in Afghanistan.
Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps, recently completed an overseas visit to Afghanistan on the heels of President Barrack Obama‘s decision to commit an additional 30,000 troops there.
Confirming the next battalion of Marines will be on the ground in Afghanistan within the week, the commandant reiterated the Marines will spearhead the surge.
“The first units out of the block were Marines,” he said in reference to the 200 Marines from 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, who were leaving Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. as he spoke. “They will be in theater even before we thought.”
The battalion’s operations chief, Master Sgt. James Bauser, said their mission is to fulfill the president’s influx and support the Marines already forward deployed.
“We should be ready for anything,” Bauser said. “We’ve trained for nine months and everyone’s been honing their skills.”
All combat troops associated with the surge should be in Afghanistan by early spring Conway said, with the exception of the “two-star” headquarters that will relieve the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
Conway also dispelled reports that troop morale might be sagging.
“The Marines going out are happy to be going home, satisfied they’ve made a difference,” he said. “The Marines going in are simply happy to be in Afghanistan. If there is a problem, it’s with the other 190,000 Marines who want to go to Afghanistan. They’re still a little long-lipped these days waiting their opportunity.”
Conway also discussed the goal of a seven to fourteen month ratio of deployment to dwell time and how additional troops may affect the Corps’ goal.
“I do not see us exceeding 20,000 [Marines in Afghanistan],” Conway explained. “If we can keep it below 20K, and we now have the ability to input the effect of the additional 27,000 Marines that we started growing at the beginning of 2007, that’s having a pretty good impact in the field in terms of our deployment to dwell time.”
He said he believes the Marine Corps can reach its goal of seven month deployments followed by a14 month dwell time by mid to late next year, which is better for troops and their families.