WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Marine Corps is pressing to remove its forces from Iraq and send Marines instead to Afghanistan to take the lead in combat there, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Supporters argue that a realignment could allow the U.S. Army and Marines each to operate more efficiently in sustaining troop levels for two wars that have strained their forces, the paper said, citing senior military and Pentagon officials who requested anonymity.
The plan would require a major reshuffling and it would make Marines the dominant American force in Afghanistan in a war that has broader public support than the one in Iraq, the Times said.
Some officials sympathetic to the Army said such a realignment would help ease some pressure on the Army by allowing it to shift forces from Afghanistan into Iraq, the newspaper reported.
The suggestion was raised in a closed-door session last week convened by Defense Secretary Robert Gates for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and regional war-fighting commanders and is under review, the article said.
A Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.
Aides to both Gates and the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, said no formal proposal had been presented by the Marines, the newspaper reported.
The Times said the idea represents the first tangible new thinking to emerge since the White House last month endorsed a plan to begin gradual troop withdrawals from Iraq, but also signals that American forces likely will be in Iraq for years to come.
Currently, there are no major Marine units among the 26,000 or so U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In Iraq there are about 25,000 Marines among the 160,000 American troops there, the newspaper said.