U.S. marines shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan
The redeployment of only 1,500 troops raises concerns that Taliban offensives in Afghanistan are over-extending US forces.
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Anbar is the largest province in Iraq and the first one bordering Baghdad to be placed under Iraqi control. The New York Times reports that a Marine withdrawal would be "a milestone" for the Bush administration, which says it proves the success of its troop "surge" and its cooperation with the Awakening Councils.Skip to next paragraph
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But not everyone likes the Awakening Councils. Some consider them controversial because many of their members and leaders are former Sunni insurgents who once fought the US in Anbar. The New York Times adds that in the last several weeks, the movement has come under attack from the Shiite-led government of Nouri al Maliki, highlighting a rift within the country that could renew violence and complicate American ambitions for a full withdrawal.
The councils are credited with reducing crime and violence in Anbar, but have recently come under attack by the Iraqi Army, which is controlled by the Shiite government in Baghdad.
The government's campaign has been particularly pronounced lately in the area west of Baghdad, where the Iraqi Army has arrested scores of Awakening members. Former insurgent leaders have contended that the Iraqi military is pursuing 650 Awakening leaders, many of whom have fled.
The Los Angeles Times reports that only about 1,500 marines are expected to be withdrawn from Anbar, out of a total 25,000 stationed there. That "minimal" number is just enough to replace one unit, the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marine Regiment, which will leave Afghanistan by November.
Reuters reports that no official estimate has yet been made of the number of marines to be withdrawn, although Gen. Conway told reporters "it was unlikely that fresh marine forces would be deployed to replace the 2,200 marines fighting Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan."
The relatively small size of the expected Anbar withdrawal underscores what some say is the over-stretching of the Marine Corps, reports Reuters.
[Conway] declined to recommend a specific troop number but said the corps ultimately would like to have 15,000 troops deployed worldwide. There are currently 34,000 Marines on worldwide deployment, only 5,600 of whom are deployed neither to Iraq nor Afghanistan.
U.S. defence officials have long recognized the need to redeploy troops from Iraq to Afghanistan but no final decision has been made.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates and other top Pentagon officials are considering ways to increase the number of U.S. combat brigades in Afghanistan to confront the Taliban.
"Everyone seems to agree that additional forces are the ideal course of action for preventing a Taliban comeback, but just where they're going to come from is still up for discussion," Conway said at a Pentagon news conference. "It's no secret that the Marine corps would be proud to be part of that undertaking."