National Press Club

Marine Commandant Says Corps Fulfilled its Mission in Iraq

June 12, 2009 | By Don Knight

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The nation’s top Marine says that next spring the US will “close the door, turn out the lights and end Marine Corps presence in Iraq.”

Gen. James Conway, in a wide-ranging assessment of the Corps’ current role in two wars, told a Club Luncheon audience June 11 that “we’re coming out under a victory pennant, we have done essentially what the country asked us to do.”

Conway, in his second Club appearance since becoming Marine commandant in 2006, noted that “we didn’t find weapons of mass destruction ... but we did do something there ... we have crushed the al Qaeda in the nation of Iraq.”

Afghanistan, where 10,700 Marines have been deployed since late May, “is somewhat another story ... the casualties, the number of attacks are on the rise.”

Among the many different challenges there: a much different environment, a different language, and the fact that the Taliban “coming off the poppy harvest are going to amass in larger numbers.”

Another issue: “We and our Army brethren could be wildly successful, but in the end we would not have solved the problem of al Qaeda if there were not parallel efforts and sufficient progress being made on the other side of the border (with Pakistan).”

As for the future of the Corps, “we have not done a lot of amphibious training by virtue of our focus on Iraq and Afghanistan. ... We’ve got to get back to it. That’s what our Corps offers in terms of its niche kind of capability, that opportunity to forcible entry.”

Asked what he would tell the parents of an 18-year-old who wants to be a Marine, Conway said he would look the mother in the eye and say “Don’t worry. The safest place in the world is somewhere inside a battalion of Marines.”