Marine Commandant Describes Progress in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18, 2011 — Progress in Afghanistan’s Hel­mand Riv­er Val­ley has been sub­stan­tial, and Marines are mak­ing progress in San­gin, a stub­born Tal­iban strong­hold in the far north­east­ern part of Hel­mand province, the com­man­dant of the Marine Corps said here today.
Gen. James F. Amos updat­ed the Defense Writ­ers Group on Marine Corps activ­i­ties in the province.

The Marines went into Now Zad and Mar­ja last year and fought pitched bat­tles against an entrenched ene­my, the gen­er­al said. This year, “we walked through there, through the mar­ket, with no body armor and no hel­met and spent time in Mar­ja,” he said.

Marines are rein­forc­ing suc­cess in the area, Amos said, with 17 M-1 tanks in Hel­mand, most of them in San­gin. Marines from the 26th Marine Expe­di­tionary Unit are just south of San­gin.

“Marines have been fight­ing in the area hard for the past four months,” Amos con­tin­ued, “and we have met with great suc­cess in the area.”

The Marine Corps’ top offi­cer added that he believes the effort has passed a “tip­ping point.”

“The Tal­iban have been dri­ven out,” he explained. “Those that want­ed to stay have been killed, and those who didn’t want to stay have squirt­ed out.”

Local lead­ers in the area are work­ing with provin­cial lead­ers and the Marines, Amos said, and they signed an accord to con­front the Tal­iban and to show the Marines where insur­gent bombs are locat­ed. “So far, that has held,” the gen­er­al told the defense writ­ers, adding that the vio­lence is sub­sid­ing and the num­ber of casu­al­ties has dropped.

Bring­ing a por­tion of the 26th Marine Expe­di­tionary Unit to the area was to rein­force suc­cess, the gen­er­al said.

“If you have the ene­my on its heels and he’s react­ing to you,” he explained, “you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to rein­force that suc­cess, because it may be the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ham­mer the final nail in this thing, and we might not have to go back and fight in that same spot again.”

But despite the Marines’ suc­cess so far, Amos said, he is under no illu­sions that the war is won in Afghanistan.

“There will be hard times ahead,” he acknowl­edged. “I’m not a Pollyan­na about it.”

While Afghanistan will remain the pri­or­i­ty of the Marine Corps, Amos said, he must con­tin­ue build­ing the orga­ni­za­tion for the future. The gen­er­al not­ed that he put out plan­ning guid­ance last year to imple­ment the vision, liken­ing the Corps to a mid­dleweight box­er.

“We don’t want to be a heavy­weight force,” he said. “[They] have a hard time get­ting places — it takes time and requires a lot of equip­ment. A light­weight force may get there quick­ly, but it may not car­ry the day when it gets there.”

A mid­dleweight force, he said, “can fight up [a weight class] or fight down,” depend­ing on the sce­nario, he said.

Amos also said he wants to return the Marine Corps to being a “fru­gal” force. In the last six years, he said, the mil­i­tary has been in the midst of “a cul­ture of plen­ty.”

“If you need­ed some­thing, you got it,” he said, with no need to choose from among dif­fer­ent capa­bil­i­ties or pieces of equip­ment.

“Now we have to make choic­es, and they boil down to a choice between what we need ver­sus what we want,” he con­tin­ued. “I’ve told Marines and senior lead­ers that we are going to get back to our fru­gal roots.”

This doesn’t mean he wants to trade in new weapons for M-1 rifles, the gen­er­al said. Rather, he explained, he needs to be able to build a force in an ever-tight­en­ing bud­getary envi­ron­ment that will require changes from the cul­ture of plen­ty to a fru­gal mind set.

He used a dis­cus­sion about water bulls -– water tanks on wheels for potable water -– as an exam­ple. The one the Marines have now is towed by a Humvee and holds 400 to 500 gal­lons. “We’ve had that one since I was a lieu­tenant, and it works just fine,” Amos said.

But some­one sug­gest­ed a new water bull, he said, rough­ly three times the size. “It’s huge,” Amos said, not­ing that it takes up more space and is heav­ier than the exist­ing one. When he asked why the Corps need­ed the new mod­el, the gen­er­al said, he was told a 7-ton truck in the inven­to­ry could tow it.

“[The answer was] ‘Because we can,’ ” he said. “We can­celled that pro­gram.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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