WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Marine Corps reportedly wants to withdraw its entire force from Iraq to focus its combat efforts on Afghanistan.
The proposal made last week to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would sharply change the structure of US forces in Afghanistan while leaving the US-led fight in Iraq in the hands of the army, the New York Times reported Thursday, citing senior military and Pentagon officials.
The move would entail removing all 25,000 marines from the 160,000-strong US force currently in Iraq, and transferring them to Afghanistan, where there are currently no marines among the 26,000 US troops.
The plan “would make marines the dominant American force in Afghanistan,” the Times said.
But the most important counter-terror mission in Afghanistan, including the search for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, would remain in the hands of the joint special operations task force currently in place.
No decision has yet been made on the idea, the Times reported.
Officials said the move could improve both the field operations of the army. With all its troops confined to Iraq, the army might have more flexibility in planning its future troop rotations.
But the shift would mean changes as well for the air force. The army relies on the air force in both countries for combat air support, while the marines have their own air operations. That could improve coordination in Afghanistan operations, officials told the Times.
“This is not about trading one ground war for another,” one Pentagon official told the newspaper.
“It is about the nature of the fight in Afghanistan, and figuring out whether the Afghan mission lends itself more readily to the integrated (marine) deployment than even Iraq.”