National Press Club

Afghan forces improve as U.S. withdraws, Marine Commandant tells Club luncheon

August 28, 2012 | By Lorna Aldrich |

Marine Commandant James F. Amos addresses an Aug. 28 National Press Club luncheon.

Marine Commandant James F. Amos addresses an Aug. 28 National Press Club luncheon.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Afghanistan's armed forces are improving their capability as the U.S. military withdraws from the country, Marine Corps Commandant James F. Amos told a National Press Club luncheon audience on Aug. 28.

On a recent tour of Helmand Province, Amos said he saw progress and developments that "turn more favorable and turn more favorable," Amos said.

He acknowledged that there have been assaults on U.S. troops by Afghan soldiers and Taliban attacks on civilians. But, in general, security is improving.

Afghan forces are are "very capable on the ground in Helmand Province," he said.

In addition to his trip to Afghanistan, Amos also recently visited Japan, where he said relations with the United States were strengthened by the Marines' rapid response to earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Thousands of Marines came to help the next morning from offshore ships, he said.

"You can get there; you can do something rapidly; you can do it tonight," Amos said of the Marines' attitude.

The military's shift of focus to the region illustrates that the United States is a Pacific nation, according to Amos. He forecast there soon would be 22,000 Marines west of the International Date Line.

The Pacific region contains 61 percent of the world's population and experiences 70,000 deaths from natural disasters each year, he said. The Marines can respond immediately to those tragedies.

"That's what we do," said Amos, using the Marines' rapid reaction to a cyclone in the Philippines as an example.

The Marine Corps accounts for 8 percent of the Department of Defense budget, including support, such as transport on ships from other services, Amos said. The effect of potential budget sequestration would hit the Marines disproportionately because the service's budget is relatively small.

Amos seeks to keep the Marine Corps strong through a period of austerity. He described the current transition from buying "what you needed and what you wanted" to thinking about what is "good enough."

Amos is carefully weighing the possibility of admitting women to infantry units. He said he is gathering data from surveys and from female volunteers going through training before he makes a decision.

There are approximately 14,000 women Marines and more than 200,000 men, he said. Of 85 generals, four, including the commander of Parris Island, the famous basic training site of the Marines, are female.

Amos holds both senior sergeants and top officers responsible for creating an environment that prevents sexual assaults, he said.

He also is addressing the problem of suicides within the Corps. The Marines experienced 52 suicides three years ago, 39 the next year and 32 last year. The Corps addressed the issue by developing an interactive video that used language Marines use with each other, he said.