Outgoing commandant predicts long fight ahead for Marines in Afghanistan

The outgoing commandant of the Marine Corps on Tuesday predicted that Marines will be fighting in Afghanistan well after the July 2011 deadline to start withdrawing U.S. troops. 

“Though I certainly believe some American unit somewhere in Afghanistan will turn over responsibilities to Afghan security forces in 2011, I do not think they will be Marines,” Gen. James Conway said at a Pentagon press briefing on Tuesday. 

Conway predicted Marines are likely to keep fighting in southern Afghanistan even after U.S. troops in other parts of the country start withdrawing. The southern Afghanistan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar are the birthplaces of the Taliban and have seen some of the heaviest fighting in the war.


“I honestly think it will be a few years before conditions on the ground are such that turnover will be possible for us,” Conway said.

President Obama has established a July 2011 deadline, subject to conditions on the ground, to start withdrawing some U.S. troops from Afghanistan and transition security responsibilities to Afghan forces. 

While Conway acknowledged that the American public is “increasingly growing tired” after almost nine years of war in Afghanistan, he said the “morale is high” among Marines. 

“Though it is a tough fight, Marines can sense conditions are turning their direction,” he said. “Recently, a contact team from our manpower department went into Afghanistan and reenlisted several hundred Marines. They do value the support of their fellow Americans.”

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll shows that 60 percent of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan. Members of Congress are also growing uneasy about the U.S. presence in the country. 

Conway recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, likely his last trip to a combat zone as the commandant of the Marine Corps. He is slated to retire this fall. 

The Senate is expected quickly confirm Conway’s successor, Gen. James Amos, after returning from the summer recess.