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Top Marine: Send us all to Afghanistan

  • Story Highlights
  • Marine Corps commandant meeting with defense secretary
  • Gen. James Conway wants Marines shifted from Iraq
  • Al Qaeda in Iraq has been crushed in Anbar province, he says
  • Change would be achieved through regular rotations, he says
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The top general in the Marine Corps told CNN he is pressing to shift all Marine combat operations from Iraq to Afghanistan.

U.S. Marines with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit patrol in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, in 2004.

Marine Corps Commandant James Conway is meeting Friday with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Marines already are fighting in Afghanistan, but many also have been deployed in western Iraq since 2003.

Conway said if his proposal is approved, the shift would be at least a year away, and would be accomplished during the routine rotation of forces.

Conway said al Qaeda in Iraq has been defeated and peace agreements are likely to hold in Iraq's Anbar province, where U.S. Marines have been operating.

The general said he would tell Gates that the mission in Afghanistan is better suited to the Marine Corps' combat doctrine, and that having the Army concentrate on Iraq and the Marines on Afghanistan would make sense.

Conway also said the plan would allow him to give Marines two months off for every month they spend in combat. Video Watch how troops face long-term duty »

The plan faces some logistical problems, because the Marines -- who traditionally work closely with the Navy -- would be operating inland and would still need to rely on the Army and Air Force for support.

The move would also depend greatly on the United States' ability to reduce its forces in Iraq over the next year.

Last month, before he had been briefed on Conway's plan, Gates told a Pentagon news conference, "I would say that if it happens, it'll be long after I'm secretary of defense."

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Some people thought that meant Gates was opposed to the idea, but aides said he knew very little about the proposal.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a military audience at the Army War College this week, "It's certainly something we're chewing on, and I actually said publicly my recommendation to the secretary on this was to wait until next year, until we kind of do the overarching next steps based on how things go in Iraq." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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