Gen. James Conway, the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps said Tuesday that it will be a "few years" before the U.S. could turn over the fight to Afghan Security Forces.
President Barack Obama has ordered a withdrawal to begin in less than a year, although he has not said how many U.S. troops should withdraw or how fast when that July 2011 deadline arrives.
"I think it will be a few years before conditions on the ground are such that we would expect to be able to turn it over to the Afghan forces. And I think there's a mindset that needs to accompany that on the part of our Marines, that it may be a while," Conway told reporters at the Pentagon in what may be his last briefing here before his expected retirement this fall.
He quoted one of his officers who said, "either lose fast or win slow."
But Conway emphasized that his Marines are already working with Afghan forces to get them ready for the day when the turnover does happen. "We're partnering right now, almost on every patrol, with Afghan security forces when we go out," Conway said. "The time that we're there, the shaping operation is in a transition for the entire time, transitioning host nation forces to the point where they can do those things."
Conway said for now President Obama's July 2011 deadline is making it tough for Marines in Afghanistan. "We think right now it's probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think he may be saying to himself, in fact we've intercepted communications, saying 'hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long!'," Conway said.
But he added that later, the pendulum may swing when the Taliban leadership sees that the U.S. is not leaving en masse.
Conway also predicted that the Marine Corps he has served for more than 40 years will soon get smaller. "I think in time, after Afghanistan, that 202,000 Marines in a peace-time Marine Corps is probably too many. People are expensive. I don't know that we could keep 202,000 Marines constructively occupied."