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Conway predicts ‘more combat support’ after Army general’s review

CAMP RAMADI, Iraq - The top U.S. Marine is checking on troops in one war zone as he gets ready to send more to the next.


updated 7:17 p.m. CT, Sat., Aug 22, 2009

Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, visited Iraq this week before flying Saturday to Afghanistan, where the United States is considering adding more troops. Many of the fresh-faced Marines who met Conway are serving their first combat mission — and already are looking forward to the next battle.

They are part of a force that, between the years in Iraq and Afghanistan, could be fighting wars for a generation.
At a hot and dusty base outside Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, Conway made clear he does not yet know whether Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, will add to the 68,000 American troops already scheduled to be there by the end of the year. But Conway told the Marines he wants them to be ready.

"I'll be surprised if we don't get asked for more," Conway said. He predicted "more combat support in there."

War review coming
McChrystal is preparing a review of the war — and his needs for fighting it. He is expected to deliver that review to the Pentagon by early September. Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week said the review will not address troop levels, but military officials privately believe McChrystal ultimately will ask for as many as 20,000 additional soldiers.

U.S. troops first invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and Iraq two years later. Although the United States is committed to pulling its combat forces from Iraq by the end of 2011, military officials and experts believe the battle in Afghanistan easily could last for up to a decade longer.

That has required the Pentagon to rethink how to prepare its forces. The Army is recruiting 22,000 new soldiers and extending time at home for troops returning from battle. The Marines are making physical fitness more rigorous for those headed into combat.

Marines being Marines — a force that prides itself on running from one fight to the next — appear eager to head from Iraq to Afghanistan. An estimated 13,200 Marines remain in Iraq, and the vast majority of them will be gone by Thanksgiving. About 11,400 Marines are currently in Afghanistan.

"We're an expeditionary force; we're very offensive-minded, and it would be a better use of our time to be in Afghanistan," said Capt. John Roma, commander of a Marine company that deployed to Iraq just two weeks ago. It's his second tour of duty in Iraq; he has also fought in Afghanistan.

"But we still have a job to do here, and we're doing it to the best of our ability."