Today is quite the day for the Marine Corps. Not only will Defense Secretary Gates kill the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and delay the Corps’ version of the F-35 jet, he’s going to send an additional 1,400 Marines to Afghanistan.
The new Marines, from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, will head to southern Afghanistan to “cement tentative security gains” there, report the Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes. Since a very slow troop withdrawal is slated to begin in July, the military’s under pressure to show that it’s knocked the insurgency backed in a durable manner, something that the government hasn’t been willing to assert thus far. Gates and Gen. David Petraeus want to be ready for intense fighting following the typical winter slowdown in Taliban intensity.
“Our forward deployed forces, in this case the 26 MEU, provide the nation a unique capability to quickly project power,” Lt. Col. Matthew Mclaughlin, a Corps spokesman, says about the plus-up. “Coming from the sea, no other service or military force in world has the expeditionary capability of the Navy-Marine Corps Team.”
Notice the emphasis on “expeditionary.” The Corps is concerned that the loss of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle will impair Marines’ ability to get out to a crisis zone quickly; and as David reported, that a delay in their F-35 variant will hinder their self-reliance. Of course, neither the “swimming tank” or the jet is at use in Afghanistan, so those concerns won’t affect this deployment, but they’re in the background of today’s forthcoming Pentagon announcements about programs on the chopping block.
Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to unveil their cuts, savings and budgetary shifts at 2 p.m. at the Pentagon, after briefing congressional leaders. The official response that the Marines will inevitably issue promises to be interesting reading, especially as the bears a newly-increased burden in Afghanistan.