Small Wars Journal

The U.S. Marine Corps talks security force assistance

Those who have followed the pleadings of General James Conway, USMC know that the commandant of the Marine Corps wants his Marines out of Iraq and into Afghanistan. But there is also the matter of the Marine Corps's future after Afghanistan. Planners at Headquarters Marine Corps have placed a bet on a routine of persistent irregular conflict, security force assistance, and foreign internal defense and are arranging the Marine Corps's training and deployment plans for that scenario.

I will discuss those plans more in a moment. But in order to execute a plan that envisions a focus on SFA and FID, Marines will need language and cultural skills to match. A story from today's Marine Corps Times discusses a new language academy that the Marine Corps is establishing at Camp Lejeune (I thank a distinguished U.S. naval officer for forwarding this story to me):

The Advanced Linguist Course is the first of its kind in the military. Students will have 52 weeks to develop the ability to understand, speak and read Pashto, Dari and Urdu, all of which Marines have encountered in Afghanistan. That's two months faster than similar courses at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., said Tanya Woodcook, MarSOC's component language program manager.

MarSOC also teaches 36-week courses in French, spoken throughout parts of Africa, and Bahasa, the primary language of Indonesia. Next year, the program will expand to include Arabic and Portuguese.

We develop negotiators and Marines that will establish relationships" with the local populace, she said. It's a very intricate skill."

Courses began June 1. In addition to formal classroom work taught by instructors contracted through DLI, students will be immersed in an environment within the U.S. where only that language is spoken. Then they'll spend up to six weeks in a foreign country where the target language is common.

The Camp Lejeune academy's instruction in French, Portuguese, Bahasa, and Arabic is tied to HQMC's plans for the medium and long term. Those plans were described by two planning officers at HQMC in two articles they wrote for the February 2009 edition of Proceedings. I cited and summarized those two Proceedings articles in a post I wrote at my old blog:

Their articles have a common theme: the Marine Corps will emphasize the training and advising of foreign security forces, building partnership capacity with the objective of either preventing conflict or enabling allied security forces to meet common security threats. The U.S. Marine Corps will accomplish these tasks by creating Security Cooperation Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (SC MAGTF), which will receive specialized training for the advisory mission. And mimicking the practice of the U.S. Army's Special Forces Groups, Marine Corps regiments performing the SC MAGTF missions will receive assignments to geographic regions. They will repeatedly deploy to these regions and thus achieve familiarity with that region's culture, environment, and players.

In a historical context, redesigning the Marine Corps for regional SFA activities is another example of the Marine Corps adapting to a new security environment and attempting to prove its relevance to its political masters, something that it has had to do many times in its history. And as the SFA program fully develops, we should expect the language academy at Camp Lejeune to expand, assuming the Marine Corps can find enough exotic language instructors —to work there.

In taking on these global SFA responsibilities, the two HQMC authors asserted that the Marine Corps will not lose its capabilities for major combat operations. That assertion could get a work-out should an MCO shock occur in Korea, Taiwan, Iran, Somalia, the Caucasus, or who knows where else.


Does anyone know if the Marines are making any progress with this effort?

Several days ago in the SWJ "From the Vault" section, I read a posting about the need for the Army to create brigades that are focused specifically on COIN (I've not been able to find it since and I wanted to post a response). I'm fairly certain (based on communications with a couple of guys at FT Leavenworth) that Big Army is adamantly opposed to such an idea. But I, unlike many others, think it has merit...and so does the USMC it seems.

The idea of re-establishing constabulary units (similar to ones from post-WW2) has been floated a few times...and they could be used to execute COIN missions. I believe that was part of their mission in post-war Germany. Does anyone know if Big Army has completly quashed the idea of such units or might something like this actually happen?