WASHINGTON -- Pentagon officials, citing the demands of the Persian Gulf war, announced yesterday that they will be unable to comply with congressional orders to cut troop strength in Europe by 40,000 this year but vowed to withdraw more than twice that amount by October 1992.
The withdrawals would leave about 219,000 U.S. Army and AirForce personnel on European soil at the end of fiscal 1992, officials said. They had hoped to reduce forces to 261,855 by October, a ceiling set by Congress when it passed the defense budget last fall.
Current troop levels, which vary daily, are close to 295,000, including naval forces in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Most of the ground forces are in Germany, with others dispersed among other countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Last month, when officials realized that they could not withdraw enough forces in time, the Bush administration invoked its legal authority to keep last year's limit of 311,855 troops in Europe, said Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams.
"We are simply not going to make that 40,000 reduction because so many forces in Europe -- the 7th Corps and otherwise -- participated in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm," Mr. Williams said.
Military officials explained that the U.S. European Command began deploying roughly 90,000 U.S. troops to the gulf region last November, interrupting efforts to plan an orderly reduction in European-based forces.
Mr. Williams said the military now expects to send home only 24,600 troops by Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year. "Not only are we not going to meet the '91 ceiling, we are sort of abandoning it," he said.
Gen. John R. Galvin, the commander of NATO forces in Europe,told Congress in March that the military's ultimate goal was to reduce U.S. forces by half, probably over the next five years, but he said there was no formal timetable.
Yesterday, Mr. Williams said Defense Secretary Dick Cheney wanted 82,600 to 86,600 Army and Air Force personnel assigned to the U.S. European Command to return by the end of the 1992 fiscal year. Military officials said about 67 percent of the personnel would be reassigned to U.S.-based units, 24 percent would be reassigned to units in Europe and 9 percent eventually would be discharged.
Budget analysts warned that the redeployment of overseas forces back to the United States was not likely to produce savings unless the overall size of the military was cut significantly. Some argued that such one-time costs as transportation and the loss of payments from allies for recurring costs of facilities and support could actually increase defense costs.