Commandant Gen. Jim Amos met with reporters for breakfast in Washington this morning, and as you’d probably expect, the conversation quickly turned to the war in Afghanistan.
Amos declined to discuss specifics about recent M1A1 Abrams tank operations, but said the bulk of them are in northeastern Helmand province, where Marines have been engaged with the Taliban since pushing into violent Sangin district in late summer. While the fighting was fierce this fall, he thinks the area has passed the “tipping point” at which it could easily go back to the way it was.
“The Taliban have been driven out,” he said. “Those that wanted to stay have been killed, and those who didn’t want to stay have squirted out.”
Amos also backed the decision to send about 1,400 members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., ashore last month from Navy ships to bolster forces in northern Helmand. Most of the MEU’s ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, is now south of Sangin.
“If you have the enemy on its heels and he’s reacting to you,” he said, “you have the opportunity to reinforce that success, because it may be the opportunity to hammer the final nail in this thing, and we might not have to go back and fight in that same spot again.”
He added a cautionary note, however: “There will be hard times ahead. I’m not a Pollyanna about it.”
On the lighter side, Amos also discussed the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter program, which has faced developmental problems this year and was recently put on a two-year probationary period by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The commandant said he is actively involved in the program, likening himself to a certain Boston Celtics basketball legend.
“I’m going to become like Bill Russell was,” he said with a smile. “I’m going to be the player-coach.”