Sun, May 30, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Marines take on a series of uncertainties

SPOTLIGHT The debate over the suggested deployment of Taiwan's Marines to Iraq has raised doubts about battle readiness in an environment unrelated to training schedules

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

A Taiwan marine holds a dual-mounted Stinger anti-aircraft missile during an exercise on Aug. 27, 2002.

TAIPEI TIMES FILE PHOTO

The proposal by US House Representatives, both Republicans, Dana Rohrabacher and Jim Ryun last weekend that Taiwan send its Marines to Iraq has placed the nation's Marine Corps in the spotlight -- even if the proposal is seemingly unworkable.

Pro-China legislators were among those most vehemently opposed to the idea.

"Whenever a country requests another country to dispatch its troops, the bottom line is that they must recognize each other as a country. Would this mean that, at this moment, the US recognizes Taiwan as a country instead of as part of China?" asked People First Party (PFP) Legislator Sun Ta-chien (孫大千).

Retired Admiral Nelson Ku (顧崇廉), now a PFP lawmaker, said that there was no reason for Taiwanese Marines to join operations in Iraq.

"`For whom' and `for what' are the bottom lines for the military in carrying out its missions," Ku said. "However, we cannot find any reasonable answers to these questions in regard to this issue."

Ku said that to join the alliance, Taiwanese troops would have to train with other troops so they could familiarize themselves with alliance tactics.

He also said it was very important to establish who would foot the bill.

"If coalition members don't pay, then the Taiwanese people will. However, I think it would be rather difficult to persuade Taiwanese to pay for all of this at this moment," Ku said. "We cannot fight for nothing. It is not our military's job to protect other countries."

Fearless

But Rohrabacher and Ryun's proposal at least brought a degree of international credibility to Taiwan's Marines, whose slogan is "Fearless of pain, hardship and death."

The nation has 39,000 Marines, based in Tsoying, Kaohsiung City. But most of this number is made up of conscripts completing their two-year compulsory military service.

The Marine Corps has four divisions -- infantry, armor, artillery and amphibious reconnaissance. Airborne and hovercraft divisions are also now under development.

In the infantry division, the Marines have a "security company" which is res-ponsible for guarding naval bases and other functions normally assigned to military police.

The company also functions as a combat unit and is responsible for supporting air defense, counter-intelligence and other missions.

To become a marine, a recruit must attend a two-month boot camp in the corps' training center in Pingtung County. After that, the recruit is assigned to advanced training programs according to his or her abilities. The total amount of time spent on training is approximately six months.

In 2001 the Marines invited US military personnel to observe exercises. The US military officials complimented their Taiwanese counterparts, saying that parts of the training program were tougher than the US Marines' schedule.

Weapons

Taiwan's Marines are equipped with a wide range of weapons, including T-74 machine guns, XT-86 combat rifles, T-77 submachine guns, T-65 rifles, Colt 45mm pistols, 300 US M-60 A3 tanks, 200 US M-41 tanks, a total of 700 LVT armored vehicles, US V-150 and domestically built amphibious assault vehicles, US M-24 armored personnel carriers and LTH-6 carriers armed with 105mm cannons.

As to nautical hardware, the Marines boast 46 landing ships, 130 transportation craft and 210 armored landing craft. In addition, the navy's two Newport Class landing ships, leased from the US, allow the Marines to launch attacks 8km from shore. These ships can carry 420 Marines, 500 tonnes of vehicles, four small landing craft and two helicopters.

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