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AFGHANISTAN: Goodbye Fallouja, hello Kabul?

Shura Nothing official has been said, but more and more Marines of all ranks are saying that their future is in Afghanistan, not Iraq.

Two facts are giving the rumor extra boost: The Bush administration is known to be retooling its Afghanistan strategy, and the Marines on Saturday will formally turn over security responsibility for Anbar province in Iraq to the Iraqis.

The Marines will stay in Iraq to help the Iraqi forces, but indications are that a drawdown is being planned, maybe by end of the year.

Marine brass, including the commandant, Gen. James Conway, have made no secret of their desire to get back to Afghanistan. This spring, two Marine units, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, and the 2nd battalion, 7th regiment from Twentynine Palms, were sent to Afghanistan for a seven-month deployment.

Few Marines feel a onetime deployment will be sufficient to thwart a resurgent Taliban and continue to train the Afghan forces. For the Marines from Camp Pendleton, a return to Afghanistan would represent an opportunity to complete some unfinished business.

Marines from the  base were the first conventional U.S. troops into Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, helping to topple the Taliban but missing a chance to kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

A return, of course, would not be casualty-free. In the past week, seven troops from Twentynine Palms have been killed.

--Tony Perry, in San Diego

Photo: Afghan tribal leaders gather recently, with Marines standing guard against insurgent attack.   Credit: U.S. Marine Corps

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