A consensus is growing among defense leaders to send a substantial contingent of US Marines to Afghanistan, probably beginning next spring, while dramatically reducing their deployments to western Iraq, the top Marine general told the Associated Press on Monday. Gen. James Conway, Marine Corps commandant, said in an interview that Marine units tentatively scheduled to go to Iraq next spring already are incorporating training for Afghanistan into their preparations. He said he has had discussions with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and believes the Pentagon chief "would not object to the idea of a fairly strategic shift of focus of Marines from Iraq to Afghanistan." "I don't want to put words in his mouth," said Conway, who has made no secret of his belief that Marines could be put to better use fighting in Afghanistan than their current overseers mission in Iraq. Gates understands, he said, "my public stance on the fact that we can be better used elsewhere. And he certainly hasn't told me to pipe down. So I like to think he understands the logic of it."