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The Roundtable: How Will Local Military Community Be Affected By Troop Drawdown?

How will local Marines be affected by President Barack Obama's plans for a troop drawdown in Afghanistan? We examine the details of the president's plan, and the impact it could have in San Diego's military community.

How will local Marines be affected by President Barack Obama's plans for a troop drawdown in Afghanistan? We examine the details of the president's plan, and the impact it could have in San Diego's military community.


Tony Perry, San Diego Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times

Mark Sauer, KPBS Senior News Editor

JW August, managing editor of 10News

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ST. JOHN: The president has made a commitment to withdraw trooping from Afghan. how might this affect thing? We'd like to hear from you. Do you have an opinion on the speed of the drawdown? Do you have an insight interest how the drawdown might or might not affect you or other San Diego families? Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Tony. You are in Washington DC where I gather there was some kind of a press conference with members of the mill carry about this. Did about the president's announcement?

PERRY: I learned that there are a lot of decisions, a lot of very small grain decisions that have to be made, what company, what battalion, what platoon, which is going and which is going to be staying. I'm here in Washington DC for a two-day conference on military matters. Some meetings with the Pentagon. I went last night, and watched a marine who was killed in Afghanistan, his body returned over air force space. There's another one tonight. Fighting is still going on in Afghanistan, and young marines from Camp Pendleton are dying. Five in the last few weeks. A step back. The president in November of 2009 authorized the surge, he said by July, 2011, he said the withdrawal of those forces would begin. That's been pushed back, and they've tried to wiggle around that. He gave us some details of the 33,000 in total will be home by the end of next year. That leaves 67,000 still in country.

ST. JOHN: About a third then. Do you have a sense of where those 33,000 will come from Tony?

PERRY: Most of them will be army troops. Most of them were army troops going in, more than two thirds. The question is for us in Camp Pendleton's region, how many will be local troops? In the first installment, the first 10 thousand, we asked specifically that major general Richard mills just a few minutes ago, he was for a year the top marine general in Afghanistan when we had 10,000 marines from Camp Pendleton there. And he's now gone on to be deputy commandant. And he said we don't upon. It all depends on what kind of troops too. The implication from his comments and from some other comments made by the Department of Defense people is this in this first shift of 10,000, I think very few will be marines, very few will be Camp Pendleton marines, and very few will be combat infantry troops. I think they're gonna try and bring the number down to support troops. The Marines don't have a long tail to tooth is what they call it, a support system. There aren't a lot of folks sitting around filling out paperwork. So it may be hard to scrape up a certain number. My hunch is for this 10,000, very few of those will be marines. Next year, when the rest of them, 23,000 come home, I think you are gonna see marines rotate home and not be replaced. And that I think means battalions now at Camp Pendleton training looking to deploy next year may not.

ST. JOHN: That's interesting. What we've heard from Camp Pendleton, as you say, they're still training a hundred percent of the time, expecting to go out and replace the Marines in that location from camp Lejeune.

PERRY: And they're going to 29 palms for what they call Mojave viper, and training how to deal with the Afghan civilians. They have a fake, if you will, Afghan village there, 10,000 buildings of active role playing. rash tune, some of that teaching going on in San Diego state. And they're also learning classic marine missions, locate, close, engage, and kill. They train these things, those skills, every day all day. And that will continue, I think regardless of what decision is made about how deployment is next year.

ST. JOHN: That's interesting. For effects who may be interesting and wondering, it's not likely to affect deployments this year, but maybe next year.

PERRY: That's what I'm reading, and I'm reading between the lines. And the general in Afghanistan, General Tullin, did a briefing a few days ago, and that appeared to be what he was saying. Even before the president made the announcement. Not this time around but probably next time. They are signalling that certain areas that have been in the Marine region, Lashkar Gah, which is the capital of Helmand province, is one of those that's been IDed as ready for Afghan control. Yes, but the Marines will be nearby in what they call overlook, ready to jump in. And they're already doing somewhat of that. We've lost as I said, five marines since midApril from Camp Pendleton. They had replaced the third battalion 5th marine regiment which lost 25 killed.

ST. JOHN: Very high casualties.

PERRY: And more than 200 wounded. The war is still going on. And it's centric to Camp Pendleton.

ST. JOHN: Thank you, Tony. JW, there's been some writing in the media about possibly the kind of role the Marines have been playing out there might change as a result of this shift in policy.

AUGUST: I was reading that quote from Duncan hunter who was -- he's now a Congressman, but served in Afghanistan, and he said, and this to me is the big question, that they have to drawback on the scope. They have to start thinking about what's next, drawback on the scope of the engagement. Do they stay in the province and go hand to hand with them or do they pull back and do antiterrorist type of activity? That was what hunter was recommending. He was saying, and I don't always agree with Mr. Hunter. But I have to agree with him there. I'm sure Tony they're nowhere in the process of working through that, but I'm sure it's also top of the agenda.

PERRY: Indeed. As you draw down the number of troops, you have to redefine your mission. The question is how quickly do you redefine it? And frankly, are the Afghan troops ready for the -- I'll use a brutal phrase, to have the training wheels taken off of them? Mills again in his speech to the reporters at this conference said that he expects as the U.S. draws back a bit the Taliban will test the Afghans. They will attack the Afghans. And the question, frankly, is how well the Afghans will respond to that. Are they ready to take over the security burden for their country for themselves?

SOUR: And would that be true five years from now as it might be true five months from now? 67,000 troops more than when President Obama took office. The poles are firming up strongly against this 13-year war. Quiet is, when the United States leaves after 12 or 13 or 14 or 15†years of this conflict, what benefit will it have been and why did we invade and occupy in the first place? That becomes a big question that's playing out in the poles, it seems to me.

PERRY: I think that's the question, mark, that you should girds everything: Is this mission worth the loss in American lives and American treasure? Some people say yes, some people say no. Those that say yes say that we've got to stay. Those that say no say bring them home now. We don't know what the future is. We're all spit balling on this. We don't know what the next Osama bin Laden, whatever his name is, has in mind. We don't know what the Taliban is gonna do. As they say in all of these things, the enemy gets a vote. And we don't want frankly know how the enemy is gonna vote. Are they gonna try and take over Afghanistan again or move to Yemen and parts of the Philippines and Pakistan mountains? We just don't know.

SOUR: And how big a problem is that for people like us in that region?

PERRY: Indeed.

ST. JOHN: As you were saying, media, 57†percent of encouraging the president to withdraw troops that soon.

SOUR: Are you listening?

ST. JOHN: Why do you think they declined to sign?

SOUR: Are they listening? Have we stopped fighting the last year, and the culture of the military, and thyself are things changing? Is the public way out ahead of the politicians and the generals on this one? All valid questions.

PERRY: I think the public, mark, is confused. Foreign policy making isn't like E-bay. You don't get to do a few key strokes and you either get what you want or you don't. Frankly, the 56†percent, while significant, doesn't show me much when you think, yes, and what are you doing about it? Are there protests in the streets? Are politicians losing their jobs? And the answer is no. The answer is that without a draft, only one percent are truly involved. And the others may have feelings. Frankly they don't act on them. And the politicians know that.

SOUR: That's a very good point. We do have 20/20 hindsight in this regard going back to Vietnam. A lot of these same arguments were made at that time, and some of arguments are still going forward. It's difficult to see how the United States benefited from that tragic episode.

ST. JOHN: Tony, you were mentioning that five marines from Camp Pendleton had just died in the last month did you say?

PERRY: Since mid April, since they took over for the other battalion that had lost 25 with 200 wounded.

ST. JOHN: Is it possible that withdrawing is going to make it more dangerous for our troops over there?

PERRY: That's an argument that says that, that says that's the Taliban or whatever witch's brew name you want to apply to them, in Iraq is up to. Upon they are trying to conflict as best they can American casualties to hasten our withdrawal there. Again, the enemy gets a vote. Hard to tell what he's gonna do. I don't think if Helmand province he has the wherewithal to mount large scale small arms ambush style attacks. But these roadside bombs and I believe at least four out of five cases of the killed from Camp Pendleton, from the 15, were these roadside bombs. That's gonna continue day in day out. And the Afghans are losing a lot of people too to the roadside bombs. This is a very smart enemy. He's also ruthless. He'll kill his own Pashtun brothers, if you will, to get at the Americans. And he's doing it every day.

ST. JOHN: JW, what's your opinion of the speed of the draw down?

AUGUST: I don't know what to say about it. I wish we'd get out there quicker. I just thought it was interesting chose a centrist position on this. Some elements of the military are not happy about it. But he sure has been catching it from both sides. The left wing, he had a lot of support, not enough, not quick enough, we need to do it quicker. Then these that say we can't let these young men and women have died in vain, and we need to stay the course until the problem is resolved.

SOUR: That goes from Vietnam. Right.

ST. JOHN: recruitment for the military, or does it just mean that the U.S. will have troops to deploy somewhere else?

PERRY: Military is doing fine with recruitment. A sour economy helps a great deal. But the Marines are having no problem. They're turning people away. They're putting them on waiting lists. Army the same, air force, Navy the same. A lot of people begging for those jobs wearing uniforms.

AUGUST: You may be over in Somalia pretty soon or Yemen, Tony.

ST. JOHN: And you gotta ask yourself whether unemployment is a consideration. What are these troops gonna do?

SOUR: We've got plenty of infrastructure, alternative energy. There's plenty of ways to put people to work across the country other than goes across the country and engaging in combat. to help the planet and help each other.

ST. JOHN: Thank you for that comment. That's mark sour, senior edit or here in the KPBS news room. I'd also like to thank JW. And Tony, we're so glad you were able to make it even though you were on the phone.

PERRY: My pleasure.

ST. JOHN: And thank you very much for listening to the round table on KPBS. I'm Alison St. John. Join us next time.

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