Even if peace is achieved in Iraq, the United States Marines will remain on active duty, but this time it will be in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan. Senior Pentagon officials say the prpoposed shift of large numbers of Marines out of Iraq and into Afghanistan is back on the drawing board. According to Admiral Mike Mullen, “I think it’s going to be very much tied to force levels in iraq and then, should we be in a position to move forces into Afghanistan. I think that certainly would come back into consideration.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates added, “I think that’s a possibility.”
Admiral Mullen did acknowledge problems in shifting Marines to Afghanistan. “The Marines have been on a vey challenging rotration. And to be in a position that sort of having a foot in both countries is going to be, you know, it will be challenging.”
General Conway who heads the Marine Corps expects al-Qaida eventually will decide they have better operational facilities in Afghanistan than in Iraq and will make the move. Conway said in a memo, “Afghanistan, in some ways, will be an even tougher fight than Iraq.” The resources of Afghanistan are much more limited than Iraq and its geography facilitates guerrilla warfare tactics.
The Marines of Bravo Company, 1st Platoon, sleep beside a field of poppies as Afghan workers quietly gather up the opium bulbs. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit has moved into southern Helmand province which is the world’s largest largest opium poppy-growing region. But, unlike the foolish policies of the Bush administration, the Marines are not destroying the fields and have assured farmers their crops will not be touched by American forces. As Lt. Adam Lynch noted: “”It’s kind of weird. We’re coming over here to fight the Taliban. We see this. We know it’s bad. But, at the same time we know it’s the only way locals can make money.” Marines commanders are emphasizing their primary target is the Taliban, not poppy fields which are the mainstay for many Afghan farmers.
Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghan’s drug trade, said the Marines have been placed in a complex situation by one dimensional thinkers in Washington. Rubin, a professor at NYU, points out: “All we hear is not enough troops, send more troops., Then you send in troops with no capacity for assistance, no capacity for development, no capacity for aid, no capacity for governance.”
Ironically, the Marnes in the field have greater insight into how to deal with Afghanistan than “experts” sitting in the White House who believe the war on drugs should be an important goal in Afghanistan. The Marines, wisely, are focusing on the enemy-the Taliban– not on innocent farmers who are trying to eke out a living.
Hundreds of Marines who have previously fought in Iraq, took part in an assault on Taliban positions in southern Afghanistan. This was the first major action for the 2,300 Marines who arrived in Afghanistan the past few weeks. US military officials said the Taliban had been expecting an assault and had planted homemade bombs. Marines and militants exchanged gunfire and Major Tom Clinton noted: “We haven’t seen anybody who isn’t carrying a gun. They’re trying to figure out what we’re doing. They’re shooting at us, letting us know they’re here.”
The more critical issue is why, after seven years of training and fighting, isn’t the Afghanistan army better prepared to deal with Taliban insurgents. Senator McCain threw out an off hand remark several months ago about remaining in the Middle East for a 100 years. Unlesss the Afghans can handle their own defense, his comment may well prove accurate.
James Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, told reporters the Marines no longer can maintain the strain of fighting all over the world in a nonstop fashion. “We can’t have one foot in Afghanistan and one foot in Iraq. I believe that would be–an analogy would be having one foot in the canoe and one foot on the bank. You can’t be there long.” He is concerned how the wars impact training programs for the corps. “We are not doing that kind of multi-capable training that we historically do in order to be that swing force and arguably the first to fight.”
The necessity of constantly being engaged in fighting has created a new generation of men and whome who do not have an understanding of the marine corps historic role to be a lightening fast force that deals with situations and then leaves them for the Army to handle. Conway realizes 3,000 Marines are headed for Aghanistan and “if there is a determination to send more Marines to Afghanistan, I would certainly be respectfully requesting that we reduce our presence in Iraq.”
There is just so much America’s armed forces can do in defending their nation. At some point, American society will have to decide if it wishes to be policeman of the world, then it can not be done by relying solely on volunteers.
General James Conway, head of the Marine Corps, issued a directive requiring medical officials to screen marines returning from combat for any signs of post traumatic stress, particularly if their behavior makes a sudden change for the worse. His order states: “Post-deployment misconduct, especially a Marine who previously served honorably, must be considered a possible indicator of an undiagnosed stress injury or a mild traumatic brain injury that if confirmed deserves immediate and comprehensive treatment.” The order appears to regard sudden switches from normal behavior to extensive use of drugs or alcohol as indicators the marine is suffering from effective of extensive combat duty.
Last year, there were reports members of the military who received less than honorable discharges were being denied medical treatment by the Veterans Administration. Conway’s order is a welcome change from the prevailing indifference to effects of combat on men who fought and can not shake off the horrors of being under fire. Hopefully, other branches of the military will copy the Conway directive.
Posted in Human Rights, Iraq War, Military, Veterans, War, World News
Tagged drugs, Iraq, Marines, medical treatment, PTS, VA