U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
|Presenter: Commandant USMC Gen. James Conway||May 17, 2007 1:00 PM EDT|
GEN. CONWAY: We looked for a round table -- (laughter) -- but there aren't any in the Pentagon, so we've got what we've got, folks.
Let me start off with just an opening statement if I can, and it says, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and thanks for taking the time to spend part of your afternoon with us.
I've been on the job about six months now, and I'm certainly in a better position to share my observations than I was when we last got together in November. Keeping the dialogue open with you folks is good for our Corps, and I believe it's good for the nation. We'll continue to seek opportunities to bring you up to date with what's happening with America's Marines. I never ask you to tell good news stories on our behalf; rather I would just ask that you continue to report objectively. As the fourth estate, you owe that to our fellow Americans.
The difference in the time we have -- the difference in the time we in uniform need for success in Iraq and the amount of time our countrymen are prepared to invest is a disconnect that's troubling. We enter these first battles of what has become known as "the long war" with the expectation that the tasks could be difficult, but that they would be short-lived. Our experiences have proven otherwise.
Yet what we are seeing transpire in the Al Anbar province today is a clear discernible wedge between the Sunni tribes and the al Qaeda in Iraq. It has taken four years for these folks to realize that the al Qaeda in Iraq could offer no more than a future filled with fear and instability. Some very brave people have stepped up to speak out against al Qaeda and encourage their fellow tribesmen to work together toward an Iraq that is stable and at peace with its neighbors.
Now more than ever it's imperative for the power of the nation to continue to support the people of Iraq economically, politically and militarily.
And here at home we have simply got to do a better job of communicating to the American people the cost of leaving Iraq too soon. There has been much debate over the reasons for going into Iraq for the first place. However, I believe there is much more convergence of thought on the range of possibility should we leave Iraq without achieving success.
In addition to Iraq, I'd like to offer you, one, where we are with the Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicle. The support of the Congress and Secretary Gates has been phenomenal, and we're excited to see industry get behind this program, as these vehicles will truly have a positive impact on our ability to better protect our Marines and sailors operating at the tip of the spear.
Secondly, the importance of American battlefield ethics in this fight -- there have been some incidents that have gained a lot of media attention, as has historically been the case. A servicemember under investigation or undergoing trial is innocent until proven guilty. And too much in terms of declarations of guilt and apologies has already been said. But I would like to share with you some of the measures that we're taking to ensure Marines continue to conduct themselves honorably in battle.
Third, our efforts to recruit and retain toward our goal of 202,000 -- it's a tough environment, but our recruiters are performing superbly in the most difficult months of the year. I hope not to add to their burden, but even though the propensity for all three major ethnic groups in our country to join the all-volunteer military is down, I've tasked our recruiters with ensuring that our minority percentages stay strong.
At this time I'd be happy to take your questions. Jamie.
Q General, it sounds like what you said from your opening statement that you think September is too soon to make a judgment about whether U.S. troops should begin significant troop withdrawals from Iraq.
GEN. CONWAY: No, I don't think I said that. We'll be anxious to, one, get all the forces in that the president has said that he wanted to dedicate to the task. I believe for the Army that's sometime in June.
We will have -- in fact, we have right not but certainly we'll have 2,000 Marines offshore that can be put into the Al Anbar province that would essentially be our contribution of the 4,000. And then I believe there will be a need for a period of time wherein the commanders, both General Odierno and General Petraeus, will be able to observe the effects of all of that and then come back and tell us what they think. So that's --
Q When you say there's this disconnect between the amount of time that you in uniform believe it's going go require and what the political will in the United States is. And you point out that four and a half years -- or four years for Anbar province to begin to turn around. It doesn't sound like in September that you're going to be prepared to start pulling troops out.
GEN. CONWAY: I think that will depend upon a number of things that happen between now and September. But what I intended to say -- if it didn't come across that way, I'll need to think about how I say it next time -- but I do believe that there's a certain amount of time that it takes to overcome an insurgency type of environment. Historically it's been somewhere between nine and 10 years, with various levels of effort. I think that there is less of an appetite in our country than we the military might think we need to sustain that kind of effort over that period of time. That's the basic disconnect that I was talking about.
Q Do you think -- not to belabor this point, but do you think it's been -- in the analogy that people keep using, do you think more time needs to be put back on the Washington clock to match up with the Baghdad clock?
GEN. CONWAY: I think, Jamie, that our Marines and our soldiers, our sailors and our airmen in the theater see incremental progress on a daily basis and they want to be able to sustain that progress because they want to be able to succeed and come out with our credibility high and the credibility of the United States, you know, where it was when we went in. So in that context, I think that our servicemen and women would wish for as much time as it takes to do the job, realizing that incremental progress will one day take us over the top.
Q General, sort of along those lines, you've seen, I think, what many have told us are some incremental improvements in Anbar. First, considering the pace you've seen those improvements take, do you think you're going to be able to either keep a steady-state number of Marines in Anbar, or are you going to have to add these Marines that are offshore to Anbar, or to Baghdad, where there's obviously more violent problems?
And how long do you think it will be before you could start pulling troops out of Anbar, if it's taking this long?
GEN. CONWAY: Yeah, that's a great question. Several ways to approach it. One, the 4,000 was what was announced back some time ago. I do think that there is significantly more progress in the Al Anbar province at this point in time than we thought there would be, and that's because of the recent -- by "recent" I'm talking about as late as October of '06 -- turnaround that we've seen, so that the potential turnover for that province is, I think, more optimistic than it's ever been.
At one point, when General Casey and I were both there, we viewed the Anbar province as being the last to be able to be turned over because of the intensity of the Sunni insurgency. That has changed. We now have Sunnis in large numbers joining the Iraqi army in the Al Anbar province. We have more Sunni tribesmen wanting to become police than we have the opportunity to train on a monthly basis. So I do believe that any plus-up effort, to include the two battalions that are on deck right now as an initial contribution to that plus-up, are in a very real sense reinforcing success.
So what the commanders in Iraq now determine needs to be either an additional number of Marines in the Al Anbar, or elsewhere, what they will determine in terms of the success and the result of opportunity to turn it over to the Iraqi army out there and the Iraqi police, I think is very much an open question at this point. But I'm optimistic about all those things.
Let me add, now there's also, I think, some good news on the horizon with regard to another leg of the stool. There's three legs of the stool: the economy, the politics and the security. The economic aspect of things are also looking up because we've got some international businessmen watching this whole security and stability thing very closely in the Al Anbar province. The realize that early risk-taking could be lucrative. And our indications are that they're about ready to spring. So I'm encouraged by that.
Q Could that MEU go to Baghdad instead?
GEN. CONWAY: It could. It could. That MEU is the reserve of the theater commander. And the theater commander -- I'm talking Admiral Fallon -- could pass it off to General Petraeus, General Odierno, for use anywhere in the country. We prefer to have Marines all stay together, but it's not an absolute necessity.
I'm going to go left, right, left, if it's okay.
And so go ahead, young lady.
Q Sir, what gives you confidence that what you're seeing in Anbar, this turnaround that you've been seeing for the past few months is -- or has any staying power?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, I think -- if you talk to the tribesmen, if you talk to the imams, if you talk to the sheikhs, their realization has been slow to come, but I think it is going to be much more permanent than a flash in the pan kind of effort, if you will. They -- you know, Iraq's going to be a rich country one of these days. Al Anbar has got the potential to be a rich province, based on what we're hearing about potential oil deposits and those types of things. So I think that they have simply had it up to here with the indiscriminate killing of their sons and daughters, and they seek a better form of life. And they had sided with the al Qaeda for a time, I think in an effort to try to bring that to pass, and it's just not going to happen. I think it's for real, and I think they see it that way.
Q General, on the issue of the MRAPs, can you talk about the -- you know, how you see this? I mean, is it urgent? Is it extremely urgent? How quickly do you need them delivered? And ultimately, is it your objective to see the MRAP replace the humvees in Anbar?
GEN. CONWAY: Let me answer your question this way. We know that the MRAPs save lives. We have yet to have a Marine killed in the Al Anbar province who is riding inside an MRAP. An MRAP can take a much heavier blow, especially the undercarriage-type of explosion, than the up-armored humvee, which, you know, had been previously the gold standard.
So with that knowledge, how do you not see it as a moral imperative to get as many as those vehicles to theater as rapidly as you can? We are pushing right up to the edge of procurement regulations on this effort. I could still be wearing stripes before this is all over. But I just see it's absolutely critically important to us to push this vehicle as hard as we can so that we save lives, in the process perhaps convince the American people that we can get after this casualty thing in a real fashion and maybe buy more time on the part of our countrymen to see this thing settled. So that's my view of the importance of the vehicle.
Q General, could we go back to -- when you alluded to the allegations against Marines -- you know, we had Haditha, Habbaniya and this latest case in Afghanistan. Two questions on that. One, you alluded to there's probably been too much in the way of declarations and apologies.
I was struck by -- the apology in Afghanistan seemed to prejudge that case, an apology for what Americans did for Afghan civilians, a very heartfelt apology that seemed to acknowledge that there had been wrongdoing in that case before any real charges or legal proceedings. Are you concerned about that?
But then more broadly, are you concerned that there's something going on here, without you prejudging this case, to see these persistent and serious allegations against Marines? Is there an underlying problem?
GEN. CONWAY: First things first, you know, we have all made solatia payments. Commanders in Iraq do that as a matter of course any time there is the accidental death of an Iraqi citizen or an Afghani citizen in this case, and your troops were somehow involved. But that solatia payment in no way prejudges guilt or innocence, really. It simply says that we regret what's happened, and we would like to somehow compensate you for probably some of the expense you've already encountered.
When you take it to the next step and start making pronouncements about guilt or innocence of the parties involved, to my way of thinking that goes against a sort of tried and true element that says that any serviceman or woman is innocent until proven guilty, and senior military officials don't talk about those things while they're under investigation or really undergoing trial. So that's the essence of my comment that maybe too much has already been said, because those things have not been adjudicated the right way they need to be. They're either being investigated or being put before trial.
The second part of that, though, does cause me some level of concern. And I -- we had a couple of those things in the media even as I became the commandant. And early in my guidance I started talking about the importance of our core values, the importance of battlefield ethics and the importance of those things as they relate to winning a counterinsurgency kind of fight. So you add to that perhaps some of the things that we saw in a recent mental health assessment study, and I have put out guidance to my commanders that we need to go back to the basics, and we need to make sure every Marine understands the importance of ethics as an American trooper and the importance of maintaining these core values as we go about a counterinsurgency fight.
Yes, ma'am? In the back.
Q I had an opportunity to speak to some of the tribesmen and sheikhs in Al Anbar, and they had sort of really repeatedly said that they wanted to end the occupation at all costs, whether it be at this point by al Qaeda or U.S. troops. Do you worry that you are working with and cooperating with, training and arming Anbaris who could at some point then use those resources and turn them against Marines based there?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, no, I don't worry about it. Is it a possibility? I suppose. But I would say it's a very unlikely one.
We're training the 1st and the 7th Iraqi Army Divisions. We're training provincial police and city police. These folks are definitely off the fence, as far as we're concerned.
Now, that we're training some people that maybe fought against us in years past -- there's no doubt in my mind that we're doing that. I mean, some of these people that you describe we called anti-coalition forces. These people thought that we had become occupiers and not liberators. And they did want to see us gone, and they thought the best way to do that was to attack us.
But I am relatively confident that, one, they see the al Qaeda as a much greater threat at this point to their quality of life than they do U.S. Marines and soldiers, and secondly, that in many instances they do want us to stay until such time as they feel their own security forces are able then to carry this fight and keep the province safe.
We've had that said to us just recently by the folks in Haditha, as a matter of fact.
Q General, just to clarify something you said earlier, the Army colonel who apologized to the Afghans over the MARSOC company -- was he wrong to apologize?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, I think he was premature to apologize, in that there is an investigation ongoing to determine what happened. If the investigation should determine that there are charges that should be levied, then there will be a hearing, perhaps a court-martial, those types of things.
He's not wrong to make salatia payments. Again, that's one -- a natural part of what we do.
But I will just assume that no one at this point, in any chain of command, apologize or talk about terrible, terrible mistakes or those types of wrongdoings. I think it's just premature.
Q So you would prefer he would have given the salatia payments but not issued an apology?
GEN. CONWAY: That's what I would have done.
Q General, you just mentioned the guidance you gave to Marines as a result of the mental health survey.
The report also said that those Marines and soldiers who are in heavy combat for three months should get one month off in theater to mentally reset. That recommendation was not accepted. And I want you to talk about what effect did that have on your Marines in Anbar, who face some of the heaviest combat, if they can't get that time off?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, it's an individual commander's determination. And I would say that there's not a specific program to give Marines time off halfway through their deployment, such as there is a soldier who can come home for two weeks out of what will now be, I guess, a 15-month deployment. But we have always had a program that allows individual Marines that seem to be showing signs of combat stress to go on an R&R program down in Qatar, and we also have a couple of places even in the Al Anbar province where entire platoons can be withdrawn if need be if they need to get over combat losses or conditions that are causing -- appearing to cause combat stress.
Q How often is that done? Is that increasing, the number of times they're pulled off for --
GEN. CONWAY: You know, I haven't asked the question. It was done infrequently by General Mattis when we were in theater together and he was the division commander and I was the MEF commander. But it's certainly not unheard of. I'd have to get a better answer to your question, actually, to see what the frequency is today, because I just haven't asked that.
Q Thank you, General. Back to procurement for a second, on two things. One, could you address some recent concerns about whether MRAP vehicles can be delivered in a timely manner because of material issues? And secondly, how is it going with the F-35? I understand you had some concern about it being late, and I'm just wondering if you think you're going to be going on time admittedly or anything like that.
GEN. CONWAY: Okay. First of all, with regard to MRAP production, you know, we've got people in the secretary of the Navy's procurement offices that are working that pretty hard. The program manager is a Marine, a brigadier general named Mike Brogan, who is also doing investigation. We think right now, without going offshore, the number is probably somewhere 900 to a thousand a month that can be produced by American industry.
Again, just before I stepped out here, I saw a group heading up to Aberdeen to look at the test. And we won't know completely the answer to that until all the tests are completed and we've determined just which corporations are able to go into full-range production.
But there are some concerns about steel availability, about transmissions, about axles, some of those types of things when you get into the numbers here that we're talking about. But once again, we're pushing it to its very edge. I think you know the secretary of Defense has named it his number-one priority. So I have a high level of confidence that these procurement experts are going to do as much as they possibly can in order to be able to get as many to the theater as they can.
Regards to the Joint Strike Fighter -- I can simply say that our version of it, the STOVL version -- the Short Takeoff and Landing version -- is due to roll out in about a year. It continues to stay on timeline. We're enthusiastic, are encouraged by the progress that we're seeing, and it's probably just too early to comment about the future of the aircraft until we see it a little further down the line, certainly after first flight.
Q Thank you. General, you have about 3,700 MRAPs that are on order right now to go into Iraq. Is that going to increase in the --
GEN. CONWAY: Well, we actually have less than that on order. They're about to be put on order. We have about -- I think it's 1,600 or so that are actually on order. But, no, the Marine requirement will cap out at 3,700. That was identified early on by our MARCENT commander, and that will be our total buy.
Q Over what period of time?
GEN. CONWAY: As soon as possible, but certainly we would hope by the end of '08.
Q If they're saving lives in Iraq, why wouldn't you one-for- one them and have all Marines who leave -- who go out by the wire in MRAPs?
GEN. CONWAY: That is exactly what we're doing. That's how you get 3,700. Yeah, that is the requirement that's been laid down, and we've examined just what it takes to be able to do that. And I would add -- I mean, we're talking about humvees principally in terms of our buy but also the vehicles that do route clearance, the vehicles that the EOD personnel use and that type of thing. So that's precisely how we've gauged our requirement.
Q Sir, can I get back to Jamie's question about this disconnect issue? I know you've talked about that, I think, frankly, since the day you assumed this job and probably even before that. In that six months, at least through an outsider, it seems like that disconnect may have grown a bit, in that the time clock in Washington, the patience has run a little bit thin. I wonder if you agree with that assessment and whether your concerns about that disconnect has grown over the last six months.
And also, is there anything the uniformed military leadership can do to gain back some of that patience? Should the chiefs be out more, explaining to the American people why more time is needed?
GEN. CONWAY: You know, I don't know that it's grown. I would hope that through some of the success that we are seeing in -- say, in the Al Anbar province on the part of American forces there would cause people some level of optimism.
I recently saw, in our monthly periodical, as a matter of fact, a survey that was conducted of 8,000 bipartisan voters. And the American people may not like how we got there in the first place, may not like the idea of casualties and that manner of thing in Iraq, but neither do our people want to lose or be unsuccessful.
This survey showed that the high 50s and low 60s wanted to come out successful, whatever that might take. Another high percentage felt that we needed to support the president because we're a nation at war.
So I think there is wellspring of belief out there in middle America -- perhaps not in Washington, D.C. -- that want to see a successful conclusion to this thing and not just necessarily on a two- year timeline. You know, the bad guys' timeline is a hundred years. Ours is probably somewhere short of two at this point. And there is a tremendous disconnect.
But I do have a level of confidence that our American countrymen out there want to see us maintain our position in the world and want the American military to retain its credibility.
Q Could I follow up on that question? General, can I just follow up that question?
GEN. CONWAY: Okay.
Q You mentioned earlier that insurgencies tend to last nine to 10 years. You said soldiers and Marines want as much time to do the job. And you just said that we can't really just say two years from now and that's it. Should the American people assume that there'll be tens of thousands, at least, of Marines and soldiers in Iraq for years to come?
GEN. CONWAY: No, I don't think we need to make any assumptions along those lines at this point.
I would say that we probably can assume that there will be a requirement out there -- and I won't put a troop strength number on it -- but I think there will necessarily be a requirement to ensure that until such time as Iraq can defend itself against, let's say, elements in the region, that they will look towards the coalition, not just the United States, but look towards the coalition to provide that security until such time as they've built their military. How long that is, what size force that is, I don't know. But I think that even as we start to draw down our forces, that's a reasonable expectation.
Q In your expert opinion, I mean, what is it? Is it at least 20? At least 40? And when you talk about a coalition, you're basically talking about the United States and Great Britain.
GEN. CONWAY: Yeah, you know, as mobile, as flexible, as expeditious as our forces are today, I think you've got to get beyond the idea of specifically boots on the ground. Our reactionary capability is really pretty good, as is our deterrent capability, if people understand that the United States won't stand for a certain thing. So that's probably as much as I need to say about it.
Those types of things are under discussion, but I probably shouldn't carry it further.
Q (Off mike) -- question about whether the chiefs can do more to convince the American people on this point?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, you know, we're doing a lot now. The Navy has got a program where they're engaged with America. I go out; I talk to a lot of different groups. One of these days I'm going to have four corporals go out. And I'm going to sit and introduce them, and they're going to stand there, talk about who they are, you know, why they joined the Marine Corps, what their experiences have been in Iraq, and take on all answers. And it will be a very spontaneous relationship that develops, I think, between those four corporals and the Americans who are talking to them.
Q General, can I ask you -- what you said earlier, you said, we want to come out with as much credibility as the U.S. had when we went in. Could you elaborate on that? What do you mean by credibility? How is U.S. credibility deterred? And is that something that you can tell the American public is worthy of an exchange of your Marines' lives, to maintain that U.S. credibility?
GEN. CONWAY: I don't think that's a fair question or comparison. I will talk about American credibility and say that we are a superpower nation, I think, that stands for some very positive things in this world at this point in time. I think the world would like to see us continue in that role in places outside of Iraq, and I think it's important that it's understood that we are a good partner, we are a good coalition member, and that we will respond when it's in our nation's vital interest. If there's any doubt about that, I think the world is probably a less safe place.
Q You think a failure in Iraq would cause --
Q (Off mike) -- Mountain Viper, which is kicking off right now does that signal a return of Marines?
GEN. CONWAY: I'm sorry. I missed the first question.
Q Mountain Viper, which is underway right now, is that a signal of return of Marines to Afghanistan? And has CENTCOM asked for more Marines or for Marines to return?
GEN. CONWAY: When I visited there over Christmas time, there was a great deal of interest in having another Marine battalion in Afghanistan. The battalions that had been in there previously had gotten off the roadways and gotten up into the mountain passes and that type of thing and had done a very credible job.
And the planners and the commanders there would very much like to see another battalion in. There is an equipment issue. It's easier for Army units to fall in on the Army equipment that's there as opposed to us occasionally putting a battalion in place.
So in that instance and in conjunction with the plus-up that took place, we simply could not provide another battalion. Now that doesn't rule it out for the future. That's not to say that there wouldn't be another battalion in there in time; that we're -- we'd like to expand our training to be a full spectrum force, so I would not read into the Mountain Viper aspect of things.
Q General, on recruiting you talked about the declining propensity of some minority groups to listen to the U.S. military and the Marines. You talked about your charge to your recruiters. But can you share with us some of the numbers about the declining inclination of people to join the military? And can you tell us why you think that is? I mean, what ethnic or minority groups are we talking about? What do you think is behind that?
GEN. CONWAY: The -- I -- you know, I can't give you the exact percentages. I can remember seeing the chart, but I couldn't -- I can't remember --
Q (Off mike) -- provide us with that later?
GEN. CONWAY: I'm sorry?
Q Can someone from your staff provide us the numbers?
GEN. CONWAY: I think probably. I don't think that it's confidential or sensitive information.
What we have seen is really in all three ethnic groups a propensity, a declining propensity to join. Our recruiters are aware of that. That means they just got to pump up the volume a little bit in terms of their recruiting efforts.
And we just want to make sure that we continue to look like America in the Marine Corps and not -- that we don't simply allow those declining propensities to somehow unbalance our numbers.
Q Well, why do you think the trend is there? Is it because of opposition to the war?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, I think that's probably it. The daily death toll that comes out is, I think, causing people who are -- the influencers of young men and women in America to take a second look. So I think that's probably the single most dominant feature, there are probably others. We used to spend four hours with the young recruit and four hours with those people that we would call the influencers -- the parents, the pastors, the coaches the teachers. Now it's four hours and about 14 to be able to be successful to bring that young man and woman in.
Q You know in the past, some people -- they said that the U.S. military was -- had an overrepresentation of minorities, probably because it was seen as a place where it was a meritocracy, that people could rise according to their ability. Is there a danger now that the U.S. military will an underrepresentation of minorities, and what are the implications?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, that's exactly my concern. I want us to roughly parallel the ethnic make-up of our country. I think that's what our countrymen would expect of our military and that's what we seek. So we just shouldn't allow this propensity to drive the train, I guess, would be my concern, and that's the message that I've sent to our recruiters.
Q You said that the situation has improved in Anbar mainly because of the shift in sentiment among the tribes. But have you seen any kind of change in the -- an equivalent change in Baghdad on that side of the equation? How are you going to make any progress without progress there?
GEN. CONWAY: With?
Q Without progress on that --
GEN. CONWAY: Baghdad is the center of gravity. We all know that. You know, the 6 million person population center, the capital of the nation and so forth, and, frankly, we don't have some of the issues in Al Anbar that they have in Baghdad with regard to the sectarian violence and that type of thing.
The Al Anbar province is principally a Sunni population.
I will say that the movement has been a west-to-east movement, and it continues that way. It started probably out in al Qaim, it's transferred through Ramadi, it's both in and beyond Fallujah now, and it's even taking place in the Diyala province north of Baghdad and in the area south of Baghdad, what we call the "fiyas" -- Yusufiya, Mahmudiyah, those kinds of places.
So it is spreading; that it's in Baghdad with the fervor that we see out west is -- would be an overstatement, because we just don't see it inside the city. One of the things is that the tribal connectivity breaks down in Baghdad, unlike more rural regions or even some of the smaller cities.
So we think that it's ideal if it expands. We don't see an indication of it expanding yet in Baghdad, but certainly that's what the forces there are working toward.
Q But can you make progress overall without getting the people in Baghdad to begin reconciling politically?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, I think Baghdad is the key. There can be progress outside of Baghdad that can influence what's happening in Baghdad. But there's no question -- Baghdad is the center of gravity, and we need for those things to happen in Baghdad before we can start to proclaim any definitive level of success.
Q General, a recent Pentagon-sanctioned survey found the combat forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan found that a majority of Marines specifically would not report on a fellow Marine who killed or wounded a civilian, and that one-third thought that torture was acceptable if it would save the life of a fellow Marine or soldier. Do you find that to be somewhat of a natural response for individuals who are under daily combat stress or does that cause you some concern?
GEN. CONWAY: Yeah, Jim, it causes me concern; and it's this -- the mental health assessment team's survey that I spoke of earlier. There were seven questions that were asked there in regards to battlefield ethics, and I understood every aspect of the assessment up to the point where I turned that page. And then I was a little bit disturbed by what I saw because, one, Marines were more likely to do those things than were soldiers, and that's the only depth of comparison that I had.
This study doesn't go back to World War II. It's not founded in history. In fact, it's just one rotation.
But I don't want to attack the study. What I want to do is examine whether or not there's an issue there where Marines might be more or less, depending upon the way the question was asked, prone to not follow ROE or to destroy non-combatant property, those types of things, and then I want to get after that. Because again, those things are things that either incite a population or, conversely, help to win the fight, if you do them right. And so that's why we're going a little bit back to the basics here with regard to a whole host of things that we're doing inside the Marine Corps to make sure people get it, to make sure people understand what our core values are, and then how you apply those core values in a combat environment.
Q What specifically is the Marine Corps doing?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, we have -- we've done a number of things. I've gone back to check with the Training and Education Command to see is there a requisite and an appropriate number of hours where this is instructed, both at the macro and at the mirco level. And I'm fairly confident that there is.
Monday morning we convene a values conference with senior representation coming in from all over our Corps to talk about this issue. I've gone out to my commanders saying, "Okay, you tell me how you think we need to address this." We are going to ask our NCOs, our battle-hardened NCOs, to do the instruction, because we need to make sure -- these are sort of the informal leaders in the squads and the platoons; these are the people that the new Marines respect, so we want to make sure that they understand what's taking place.
There's another host of things that we're doing. I'll be happy to provide you a short list. But the fact is that, again, we're sort of going back to the basics. We've moved the crucible in recruit training -- that's already been published -- to make sure that our Marines do understand that this is appropriate battlefield conduct, and oh, by the way, it is THE way to win a counterinsurgency fight.
Who haven't I called on here? Yes, sir.
Q I'd like to go back to MRAP for a second.
GEN. CONWAY: Okay.
Q In addition to the physical protection built into the vehicle, are there any other things that the Marines want to come as standard equipment for protection; any electronics, jammers, that sort of thing?
GEN. CONWAY: There's a package that goes onto the vehicle. I probably shouldn't talk about it too much because they've proven fairly effective on the battlefield, but these elements to the vehicle are added that enhance its effectiveness not only against the blast but also against preventing the blast. That's probably as much as I ought to say.
Q On MRAP, you've set a high bar today. The public's going to be expecting this to be almost a wonder vehicle. You have said before that it's 400 times more effective than a humvee -- up-armored humvee. Today you said it could take a substantial hit --
GEN. CONWAY: Four hundred percent, not 400 times.
Q Four hundred percent. Can you bound the public's expectations, though, in terms of whether this can take an Iranian- provided explosively formed penetrator, a side IED, versus a mine undercarriage attack.
GEN. CONWAY: Yeah.
Q There is an impression that this thing could take all that, and I'm not sure that's what you want to leave.
GEN. CONWAY: Well, nor do I want to talk to the specifics of what it can and cannot do. There is no vehicle that in its entirety is impervious to blast if the blast is large enough. On the same day that we lost four contractors at the bridge in Fallujah, we lost five soldiers riding aboard a 113 outside Ramadi that was struck by a blast that was 20 feet across and 10 feet deep. We think it was a 2,000- pound bomb that was turned back against us. We found a boot and a ramp on the vehicle. So you can atomize vehicles if it comes to that. All right?
So we should not say that this is a panacea and we'll have no more casualties. What we are saying is against what has been used most recently with an increasing level of involvement out west has been this undercarriage blast because it's perceived to be the weak spot on the up-armored humvee.
We now have a means to counter that. But for decades you've had this armor/anti-armor kind of a competition, and I think we will continue to see that. But it is a much better vehicle against the types of things we're seeing right now in the province.
Q But you're not seeing IEDs extensively in the province or explosively formed penetrators. I would think; correct me if I'm wrong.
GEN. CONWAY: We have not seen to date a lot of the explosively formed penetrators in the Al Anbar province. That's a true statement.
Q General, how concerned are you about Prime Minister Maliki's actual ability to reconcile with the Sunnis? I understand he's only gone out to Anbar once. Is he reluctant to because he's afraid for his government, his life? Or is there something -- it doesn't seem like he's actually standing up on stage and leading the nation in reconciliation from anything we can observe here. Is there a reason for that?
GEN. CONWAY: I can't answer that obviously from, you know, my perch here in Washington, DC. He has been once. I understand it was a very worthwhile visit. There's another visit planned, to go out there. If not Prime Minister Maliki, a number of his emissaries have been visiting out west. The Sunnis out west are, I think, in the debate amongst themselves right now in terms of how best to plug into the national government. In some cases their interest, I will tell you -- at least my observation when I was out both times is that they are initially concerned with provincial government and then secondarily how that provincial government will plug into the national government -- I think is kind of where we are right now.
Q General, I'd like you to put on your other hat for a moment, as the member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I'm wondering if there is any benefit for the Chiefs in having General Lute from the Joint Staff -- who was reported to be pessimistic or not enthusiastic about the surge -- I'm wondering if there's any advantage or benefit to the Chiefs for having him going over to the White House now to take this so-called war czar position.
GEN. CONWAY: Too early to say, you know? He's been named just in the last 36, 48 hours. I have yet to see his list of duties, but I'll be anxious to do so. And then I think I'll have a better feel for the questions you ask. Right now it would be too early to comment.
Q Sir, what effect is this funding dispute having on your day-to-day operations? And is it still -- are you having to take actions because of the lack of funding? And is it affecting in any way the acquisition or deployment of MRAPs?
GEN. CONWAY: No to all of those things, not yet, so there will come a time probably where there will need to be some action, where the MRAP buy could run out of its resources, but we're not there yet.
You had a question back here, sir.
Q The -- there are elements of the Navy that -- looking at the STOVL question -- that would like the Marine Corps to buy all of its F-35s as carrier variance and essentially eliminate the STOVL. What would that mean for the Marine Corps if that were to happen? And how would you characterize this issue right now between the Marine staff and the Navy staff?
GEN. CONWAY: We have -- I was not on the staff at that point, but I have reviewed their work. Our aviation planners took a look at this when the JSF was in its very early stages of development and design, and we decided that a short takeoff and landing capability gave us the opportunity to operate off the carriers, gave us an opportunity to operate off an expeditionary airstrip ashore somewhere, like we saw in the march to Baghdad; but also gave us the capability, if that runway is somehow got holes in it and you can't do a 7,000- foot launch, to go straight up.
So our variant will operate in any one of those environments. It's the only aircraft that has that flexibility to do so. Our entire service is built on an expeditionary mindset with flexibility incorporated in virtually all of our systems. So that's the reason that we think that the STOVL variant is an important complement to America's forces.
Now, we're in discussion with our Navy counterparts on what that mix ought to be. There is -- it's probably way too early to make that determination. We don't necessarily think that it in any way minimizes the capability of the carrier. In fact, we -- I believe we can show scenarios where the ability of a carrier to put a squadron ashore with that kind of flexibility is really quite an enhancement.
So we'll continue that discussion, and then after both variants have flown and we see what some of the actual mechanics and dynamics of vertical takeoff and thrust and all those things are, I think we'll come to grips with that decision.
Q It's a very contentious discussion right now?
GEN. CONWAY: No, I wouldn't say it's contentious. I think both sides, you know, feel that it is an issue, but Admiral Mullen is a very honorable man. We're not surprising each other in any of this. In fact, we just had a -- what we call a Big Eight discussion last Friday, where we talked ships and planes. We realize that we both have a service to provide to the nation that comes together very nicely in the Navy-Marine team, but that there are also a finite amount of resources out there. So we accept that our buys have to be intelligent and give us a level of flexibility.
Q General, how optimistic are you that you and Admiral Mullen will reach a consensus on the kinds of ships that you need and the number of ships that you need, amphibious ships and what those sea basing ships are going to do?
GEN. CONWAY: You know, we're -- very. Yeah. I -- you know, I think either we decide or someone's going to decide for us, and A is much better than B. So I am ultimately confident that, you know, we will determine jointly; in fact, that's what came out of our session on Friday was that there should be no all-green or all-blue determination of what the requirement is. It should be a joint determination, and then we'll go forward with the secretary of the Navy and appeal for resources.
Q How much is solved, that difference of opinion, right now?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, I think through -- again, just common sense application of -- the nation requires a certain number of forces for a forceable entry capability. That's what we and the Navy team provides to the nation, that there's a set number of ships that is required to support that.
By the time you do the footprint -- and the wait is a fact. So, you know, that's how we're going to solve it. We're going to determine what the facts are, and we're going to agree that it takes this number of ships; that class of ship has a certain availability factor associated with it, and that number then becomes the requirement, and we go forward. So I'm confident that we'll come to grips with it.
You haven't had an opportunity. Go ahead, sir.
Q Thank you, sir. If troops are going to get pulled back next year, what impact would that have on the MRAP program as you're building these? Do you see that program maybe cutting cut?
And also, what happens to this program down the road after it's cut back? Where do these vehicles end up?
GEN. CONWAY: I suppose -- and again, I'm not the procurement official here -- but I would suppose that there is a possibility for offramp with the numbers that we have asked for, based on the fact that it's going to take some years to develop all of these platforms. But we've also had some very well-intended and intelligent people working for a number of years now to try to defeat the IED, and it's still out there. So if you accept the concept of a long war, if you accept that the IED will probably be the feature weapons system that the enemy will attempt to use against us, we think that the MRAP is going to have some long-term utility.
In a hypothetical situation where Marines pull back and we still had MRAPs with plenty of service life, we're going to find a place to put them. We are probably going to cocoon them and have them available the next time we start running up against that kind of threat.
Q But aren't there some real downsides to the MRAP --
GEN. CONWAY: This lady right here, please.
Q Yeah, I wanted to follow up to Jim's question about some of the changes you put into place to make sure that Marines are not killing civilians or damaging property unnecessarily. How many of those changes that you spelled out to Jim were put into place after Haditha?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, they've all been put into place since I've been the commandant, and I became the commandant after Haditha. So they have been fairly recent. They came as a result of -- if you were to look at my initial guidance to the Corps -- every commandant puts out his guidance shortly after he assumed the role -- it was one of the things that we wanted to focus on, our Corps values, and that was because things like Haditha, Hamdaniya were in the news. And we wanted to make sure that we weren't taking any shortcuts or that our training over time had somehow de-emphasized the Corps values because it's an important part of what we are.
America has a high regard for its Marines and our ability to do the right things in combat or not in combat. So that we've got a couple of incidents in the news is unique for us. And so I think -- I feel I was compelled to take a look at it early on and to do some things about it.
We got everybody over here.
Let's see, you had a question.
Q I just wanted to follow up on the MRAP. There's some downsides. It's -- as far as I understand -- a slower vehicle than the humvee, it's a bigger vehicle, it's not a vehicle particularly suited for off road. I mean are we spending all this money, all this procurement effort, on a vehicle that has a very specific use that may be well-suited to the current battle, but by the time we actually have these vehicles built, we will have gotten something that won't be as useful in the next battle?
GEN. CONWAY: I don't know that any of those things you said are accurate. Now, you got three different sizes of MRAPS, and yeah, the largest size is larger than the humvee, okay? But the one that we're most interested in comes as a replacement to the humvee. If you checked our buy, we've got a couple thousand and more that are going to be replacements for the humvee. And it certainly has to have an off-road capability. It will do anything that the humvee will do.
Q On the ethics question, just a quick follow-up. You spent a lot of time and effort on this when you first took command. Does the survey suggest that what you did was ignored, wasn't effective? Or is there something other than training that's got to be done to make this resonate?
GEN. CONWAY: You've got a time lag difference here. The survey surveyed '05, '07 Marines. And it's just taken a while for the survey then to be collated, published and then made public. So the things that I've been talking about have all been fairly recent and are well after that study at least was taken.
Q Thanks again, General. A relatively recent Rand report suggests that over in Iraq right now we've created -- there's kind of a super-insurgent who now is being exported. We have to watch the borders now and make sure insurgents aren't getting out to be exported around the world to kind of train other people to be insurgents and things like that.
Do you agree with any of that, disagree with any of that? Or --
GEN. CONWAY: You know, I haven't seen any hard evidence of it in any of the reports that I've seen. Ostensibly, you can make a case that that would be true. You know, again, hypothetically, if Iraq ended tomorrow, you'd have a number of people who are probably extremists who are very capable fighters. What they would do, where they would go I guess is anybody's guess.
But our concern is more foreign fighters coming into Iraq at this point than they are hardened capabilities going out.
Q Sir, I know you were joking, but what acquisition rules are you actually pushing? You mentioned earlier --
GEN. CONWAY: Well, the whole -- I mean, I was joking. But the fact that this is --
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. CONWAY: I don't really worry about going to jail.
GEN. CONWAY: The fact that this is all happening so fast, the fact that we are going through eight different contractors, saying: Send us your vehicles. We're going to blow them up, and we're going to run them hard, and we're going to determine in a very rapid fashion whether or not they will meet the requirements that we have to have, in fact, in order to deploy them into the theater.
So if you compare this vehicle to probably any other vehicle that has been developed and deployed, it's just much faster. And so people are more energized. The amount of money that's being put against it is huge compared to other vehicles. So that's what I was talking about.
Q You're confident it will pass operational testing?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, yeah, I am. The one thing that's aided us in this is that we have taken an off-the-shelf capability, if you will -- there's a small outfit down in South Carolina who has sort of a small- scale production capability that basically has copied a South African vehicle. That's the model for the MRAP. So it's not entirely developmental. It's just can we duplicate, through these other corporations who are now in the process, a vehicle that is as effective as this one? And that's why the testing is taking place at Aberdeen.
Q Sir, very early on in your tenure, you raised this issue of your concern about the fact that the Marines are spending so much time training on counterinsurgency that some of the other muscles might be atrophying, particularly this break-down-the-door capability that the Marines are intended for.
Have you been able to deal with that in the last six months and gotten any way around that problem yet, or do you see that problem persisting as long as the OPTEMPO stays --
GEN. CONWAY: Well, we think that our national leadership has recognized it. We have gotten approval, shortly after I came aboard, for 27,000 additional Marines, and we're building in that capability, then, to our rotation cycle. We've examined where we are most pressed with regard to rotations and that type of thing. And the fields won't surprise you -- MPs, EOD, engineers, motor transport types. Even our Cobra pilots, Cobra squadrons are doing five months -- seven months deployed and five months home.
But no, we -- one, we don't have those additional Marines with us yet. We're recruiting 5,000 or so a year. And secondly, the requirement has increased some in my time as commandant. So we haven't been able to achieve that 1-to-2 deployment-to-dwell ratio that we think will help us substantially get after the problem.
Q I mean, as you look out, is there a time, as the corps gets bigger, you may be able to start retraining guys on the, you know, storming the beaches type of --
GEN. CONWAY: Well, I think so. I think we've got to. I can't predict for you when that's going to happen, but I think that the 27,000 additional Marines are intended to help fix that. And I think that when the requirements do start to abate some and we can again improve our deployment to 12 percentages, we're going to turn too on that fairly dramatically, because we've got -- we're tasked by the nation to have that kind of capability.
And it's there, but it's just -- it's not well-oiled. It's not well- rehearsed. And so our planners are hard at work determining right now how quickly we can integrate with the Navy and with the other capacities that give us that capability. But It's going to be a while before, I think, we can exercise it.
Q General, when TECOM announced the changes, the extra value training in basic training, we didn't get a lot of information about what this value training entails. Could you talk about briefly, what more are Marine recruits now going to get? How is this going to help them on the battlefield?
GEN. CONWAY: Well, the biggest changes to recruit training are that we moved the crucible back in time to make it the significant emotional event that is both physical and values-oriented, that it was really intended to be. Our recruit depots are intended to be mirror image, but in fact the geography and the physical plants make that impossible to do, really.
So a very reasonable course of action was undertaken out west that said, as long as our recruits are up at Camp Pendleton doing rifle qualification and field training, we'll have them do the crucible at that point, and that was about week eight. Well, it's intended to be at the end of recruit training, which is what was always done at Parris Island, and the awarding of the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor is again that significant emotional event that comes at the end of a very grueling 54, 56-hour period. We have said, we've got to get back to that. Because it is such a powerful event -- I'd invite you all to go see it some time -- that it really needs to be done at a different time.
Now there's been -- aside from that emphasis and the fact that we've pulled back some weapons training and so forth in recruit training, there's been very little difference in our application of the values training in recruit training. There are some other things that we're looking at. But I think I said earlier that the amount of time that the Training and Education Command has allocated over our recruit training, over our follow-on training, over our prep training to go into Iraq is satisfactory in terms of the numbers of hours. We've just got to emphasize it to a greater degree and incorporate it in some of the other things that we do.
Q So other than moving the crucible, what other extra values training or changes --
GEN. CONWAY: I'm going to give you a list of that, okay? There's about six or eight items there that we have done. We have -- at one point we did our Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. Again, it was partly physical but there was a great deal of values training there associated with it. Over time we sort of morphed to more the physical, more the thumping and the slamming and that type of thing, and a little less emphasis on when you use those skills and how a disciplined warrior can control himself almost regardless of the situation, so a number of other things that we're incorporating. There's a number more, possibly, that will come out of our conferences and my future discussions with commanders, but we do need to work it.
Q I have one on the V-22. The day after your press conference here, The New York Times had a front-page blaster saying that the severe limitations to the V-22 is going to prevent it from doing the full press of combat missions. One of the big implications was that modification to prevent a vortex ring state would make it susceptible to getting shot down and cripple its capability to do a large variety of combat missions. Can you address the article?
GEN. CONWAY: Yeah, I'd be happy to. I read the article, and I was a little disappointed that the article, I think, incorporated some myths into what we were going to do with the aircraft. The aircraft is being sent al Asad airfield in August in order to get it into the fight. It is intended to replace a CH-46, a venerable old airplane but it's time to retire it, and the CH-53 Delta. The Osprey will be required, will be tasked to do everything those platforms do. We're not going to coddle this thing, okay? We're going to put it into combat. We're going make it prove its wealth to us. And I'm absolutely confident that it will. And then we're going to have it ready for any future fights that we have.
So to infer somehow that we were going to only partially work it out or that we were going to protect it against some inherent flaws that the aircraft has are simply not accurate.
Q What about the notion that it will have to descend at a slower profile to prevent getting into --
GEN. CONWAY: Did you ride in the Osprey that day?
Q I had something else going, but I was going to.
GEN. CONWAY: Well, I extend the invitation to you again.
Q That was one of the implications, that because it had the modified descent profile, it was susceptible to a shootdown.
GEN. CONWAY: The aircraft can descend at a much faster rate than a CH-46. There are certain flight parameters within the aircraft, okay, but this aircraft, with its fixed-wing approach, with its ability to rotate the nacelles and descend quickly into a landing zone within flight parameters is a tremendous capability on the airplane. And I'd invite you to ride in it and see what I'm talking about. Okay.
I got to go, folks. Thank you very much. Appreciate the opportunity.
Q Thank you.
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