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US Marines say can keep Iraq levels indefinitely

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, Apr 6 (Reuters) The US Marine Corps can sustain indefinitely its current troop level in Iraq, the No. 2 Marine general said today, despite concerns about the 3-year-old war breaking the all-volunteer military.

Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, also said the Marines do not plan to prohibit troops from having commercial body armor while deployed, as the Army did last week. Some troops and their families have bought body armor because of concern that what the military was providing was insufficient.

There are about 24,500 Marines serving in the US force of about 132,000 in Iraq, defense officials said.

''To our own surprise, we are able to sustain this tempo, we think, probably indefinitely,'' Magnus told reporters. ''We can sustain 20-25,000 in Iraq indefinitely,'' he added.

''Now I'm not advocating for 25,000 Marines in Iraq indefinitely. Don't go there on me,'' Magnus added. ''But we thought, we were very concerned, and we are still concerned about making sure that we don't break the Marines and their families and we don't break the readiness of the Corps.'' Marines serve seven-month tours in Iraq, shorter than the Army's yearlong stint. About 675 Marines have died in the war.

Many Marines have performed three tours of duty in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. While the Army has provided the majority of the ground forces fighting an insurgency, the Marines have carried a heavy load and have been deployed in one of the most dangerous parts of Iraq, Anbar province.

''We're doing this about as well as anybody would have literally imagined because I didn't think we would do this, this well two years ago,'' Magnus said.

Magnus declined to predict how long Marines would stay in Iraq beyond saying ''we will probably be there in some number for more than one year.'' 'ORWELLIAN' He said the broader US war against terrorism will last ''many years.'' ''Is this the way of war of the 21st Century, that we're going to be in a George Orwellian kind of continuous war? I don't think so. I hope not,'' Magnus said.

While the Army missed its fiscal 2005 recruiting goal, the 179,000-strong Marines made their goal and are making their monthly goals this year.

Some defense analysts have argued that the United States may have to consider resuming the draft, abolished in 1973 during the Vietnam War era, if the military is unable to attract sufficient numbers of recruits.

''This is the first time in American history that we've had a long war with an all-volunteer force,'' Magnus said, but argued against a draft.

''Quite frankly, I don't want draftees in my Marine Corps, or in my Army, or in my Air Force, or in my Navy,'' Magnus added.

''This is not pejorative about the American population. What I'm saying is: this is a very demanding job. ... This is not something where you want to have the bottom 25 per cent of the high school class that didn't graduate show up and run your war in Port-au-Prince or Kandahar,'' Magnus added.

Reuters PG VP0125

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