October 11, 2007
Charlie hopes that the proposal to move Marine units out of Anbar province and re-orient the Corps to Afghanistan sparks some serious debate. It's both controversial and potentially a very good idea.
Abu Muqawama is justly nervous about the Army getting stuck with the sinking ship that is Iraq (even if things are getting better at the tactical and operational level, we're so far from a political solution not even the Hubble telescope could help us see it). But there are advantages to having the Marines operating in Afghanistan, especially with regard to airpower. Now both Charlie and Abu Muqawama are self-identified airpower skeptics, in so far as that involves warheads on foreheads. But there's much more to airpower than just bomb dropping (persistent ISR, transport, etc.), and that's where the Marine Air Ground Task Force comes in.
Marines train to fight in what is called a Marine Air-Ground Task Force. That term refers to a Marine deployment that arrives in a combat zone complete with its own headquarters, infantry combat troops, armored and transport vehicles and attack jets for close-air support, as well as logistics and support personnel.
“This is not about trading one ground war for another,” said one Pentagon official briefed on the Marine concept. “It is about the nature of the fight in Afghanistan, and figuring out whether the Afghan mission lends itself more readily to the integrated MAGTF deployment than even Iraq.”
See, the Marines are the only service that coming ground forces with rotary and fixed winged aircraft (the Army can't have planes; the Air Force can't have helos; and the Navy's ground force is called the Marines). This unique force structure generally allows for better integration of the air and ground elements. In particular, the Marine air community is used to playing a supporting role. Charlie hasn't come across many Marine F-18 or Cobra pilots who think that airpower alone can win wars. They're used to being team players, and they're damn good at it.
That doesn't mean there won't be some second and third order effects from the proposed mission shift. (Never underestimate the Army's resentment of the Marine Corps' perfectly oiled propaganda machine.) But color Charlie optimistic at the idea of more Marines in Afghanistan.
Update: Charlie has been told that one hitch in this plan is the potential difficulty of some Marine helicopters operating at altitude in Afghanistan (often above 10000 ft). We may still get a joint fight if the Marines come to rely on Army Blackhawks for air assault support.
Update II: Charlie puts her finger on a real problem. But it will be twin-rotored Chinooks they rely upon, not Blackhawks. --Abu Muqawama