Reversing the Pullout? US May Keep Troops in Europe

The Pentagon may slow or stop its removal of US forces stationed in Western Europe. With the Iraq war spiralling out of control, increasing turmoil in Afghanistan and tensions with Russia, it turns out Western Europe is still an important staging ground.

The 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment of the US Army pulled out of its home base in Vilseck, Germany, in July -- on its way to Iraq.

The 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment of the US Army pulled out of its home base in Vilseck, Germany, in July -- on its way to Iraq.

The United States appears to be backing away from its plans for a major drawdown of forces in Western Europe. The Stuttgart-based US European Command (EUCOM) confirmed to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that the Pentagon, under Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, may withdraw fewer American forces from its bases in Western Europe than previously expected.

Under an original plan drafted by former Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld and approved by Congress, the US had planned to nearly halve its Army troop presence in Europe from 62,000 to 28,000 soldiers by 2012. (All US troops -- including the Army and other armed forces -- were scheduled to draw down from 114,000 to 62,000 in the same period.) The aim of the plan, which saw many American troops returning from Europe to the US, was to create a more flexible force that could be deployed more quickly in dealing with new asymmetrical threats like terrorism that have emerged in the post-Cold War world order.

But the 2002 plan was drafted before the Iraq war had started, at a time when the conflict in Afghanistan appeared easy to manage, and before tensions with Russia increased over a planned missile-defense shield.

Currently about 11,000 US troops based in Europe are deployed in Iraq, which has left the military without enough soldiers to conduct other operations -- including security exercises with its NATO allies, like the new Eastern European members Poland and the Czech Republic.

"The concern I have is the ability to conduct the missions that we've been given in European Command with the forces available, because the forces are moving into Iraq and Afghanistan on a rotating basis," EUCOM Commander Bantz Craddock said.

Craddock handed over a report to the Pentagon in June critical of the planned pullout from Europe, which is now being used as a basis for discussions that could lead to the reversal of Rumsfeld's plan.

Under Rumsfeld's policy, the US plans to close 51 bases in Western Europe. Just two weeks ago, the Pentagon said it would close five more US military sites in Germany by 2009. EUCOM officials told Süddeutsche that no plans have been made yet for a change in strategy and that no decisions have been made about which, if any, European bases would be affected if plans for a pullout were frozen.

About two-thirds of all 114,000 American forces still based in Europe are based in Germany.



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