January 09, 2008

Marines to Afghanistan, Take 2

The AP is reporting that US Marines are once again preparing to go to Afghanistan, this after Secretary Gates essentially told CMC earlier this fall "over my dead body."

The Pentagon is preparing to send at least 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan in April to bolster efforts to hold off another expected Taliban offensive in the spring, military officials said Wednesday.

The move represents a shift in Pentagon thinking that has been slowly developing after months of repeated insistence that the U.S. was not inclined to fill the need for as many as 7,500 more troops that commanders have asked for there. Instead, Defense Secretary Robert Gates pressed NATO allies to contribute the extra forces.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday that a proposal will go before Gates on Friday that would send a ground and air Marine contingent as well as a Marine battalion — together totaling more than 3,000 forces — to southern Afghanistan for a "one-time, seven-month deployment."

This is a much smaller roll than was proposed earlier this fall: here, they'll be joining the existing ISAF fight, instead of running the whole show.

Now, the Pentagon is hedging, saying that a decision isn't imminent and that Gates hasn't officially committed troops. That may be true. But ground truth tells a different story, and the good money is on the Devil Dogs once again getting a crack at the Taliban. They'll likely send a MEU and another battalion, which should allow them to operate as a MAGTF on the ground. But Marine airlift is always a concern in Afghanistan: their CH-46s are underpowered, making it difficult to operate at high altitudes (and occasionally causing some tension with the Army who's always asked to loan out some 47s). Here's hoping they go somewhere where everyone gets to play.

Update: Cross-posted to Danger Room.