Earlier this year, U.S. officials acknowledged that U.S. troops at al-Asad had gone weeks without any members of the Iraqi military to train, a revelation that cast some doubt on the strategy behind positioning Marines at the remote base.
But McKenzie said the base was positioned to become a focal point in the conflict as Iraqi security forces move against the extremists.
"Al-Asad sits on key terrain inside Iraq," he said. "Eventually, there's going to be large actions up and down the Euphrates River valley, and al-Asad's going to be the hinge point when that occurs. Have we trained to our full capacity? No, we have not. But you know, 60 days from now we could be training to full capacity. And that's the nature of war."
Members of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, with Task Force Al Taqaddum Security Force meet with Iraqi troops in July. Task Force Al Taqaddum is part of Operation Inherent Resolve's Advise and Assist mission, which places U.S. coalition members in mentorship positions with Iraqi Security Force leaders in subjects like logistics and operations planning.
Photo Credit: Cpl. John Baker/Marine Corps
Because of this, he said, Marine force strength will likely hold steady at the two bases in the coming year.
"I would watch Ramadi and I think that would be a very good bellwether, if you will, of their ability to field forces and push back on Daesh," he said, using a term for IS derived from its Arabic name.
In the coming year, McKenzie said, Marine officials will work to develop a consistent predeployment training workup for Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response–Central Command, the unit in the Middle East to which most of the Marine forces in Iraq are attached. The unit was created last October and has since become a crucial part of the coalition effort to combat the Islamic State.
"Now that we've sort of gotten a consistent state where you've got guys at TQ and you've got guys at al-Asad, our training will now adapt to begin to reflect that reality, and we'll look at those specific requirements," he said.
"I think that's going to hold for at least one more rotation, and then we'll just be driven by policy decisions about the ultimate size of the force in Afghanistan, whatever that is," McKenzie said. "We can certainly support [the Georgian training mission], and we think it's good for the Georgians and it's good for us."