Bush to alter deployment of U.S. forces

Scores of installations in Europe would close

70,000 troops could move

`A more agile and lethal military'

Army could react quickly to terrorists, rogue states

August 17, 2004|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush announced yesterday that he is altering how and where U.S. forces are deployed abroad, closing scores of military installations in Western Europe and redeploying up to 70,000 troops in Europe and Asia to new countries or back to the United States over the next decade.

Bush, during a stop in the campaign battleground state of Ohio, said he envisions a more agile and lethal military than the one designed for the Cold War, a reshaped force that could respond quickly to modern threats such as terrorists and rogue states.

As part of the president's plan, Pentagon officials said, two Army divisions - up to 30,000 troops - could be shifted out of Germany as early as 2006, removing units that had been placed there to counter threats from the Soviet Union. They are to be replaced by a smaller, highly mobile brigade.

"For decades, America's armed forces abroad have essentially remained where the wars of the last century ended - in Europe and in Asia," Bush told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Cincinnati. "The world has changed a great deal, and our posture must change with it."

The White House promoted Bush's plan, a work in progress for more than a year, as the most sweeping reconfiguration of the military since the Korean War in the early 1950s. Bush said his initiative would save money and ease the strain on military personnel who will spend less time away from their families.

The proposal would not affect the 150,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democrats quickly criticized Bush, saying his plan would undermine national security and be viewed as the United States turning its back on NATO allies, especially Germany. Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, a former NATO commander and now a military adviser to Bush's Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry, called the proposal "ill-conceived."

Clark said he disagrees with Bush's assessment that redeploying troops would help in the war on terror. Most terrorist hot spots around the world, he said, are "more accessible from Western Europe than from the continental U.S." He said the Bush plan could damage relations with countries in Europe.

"At the time when we're trying to rebuild our alliance with Europe and asking them to do more in Iraq, this is a slap in the face of the Europeans," said Clark. "This is more unilateralism on the part of the administration."

Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said, "Nobody denies this is a new world" that requires military rethinking. But Bush, he said, is "simply moving chairs around the deck" in ways that could threaten U.S. security.

Withdrawing troops from South Korea, an option Pentagon officials have long discussed, "is the wrong message to send when we're trying to force the North Koreans to give up their nuclear program," Reed said. He said Bush is trying to offer a "positive message" that might draw attention from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Our problems start with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we need more resources," Reed said.

Kerry will speak to the same veterans group in Cincinnati tomorrow. The Massachusetts senator has said that he wants to begin withdrawing substantial numbers of troops from Iraq within six months of taking office. But he has not offered details of how U.S. troops should be redeployed.

Working with allies

Officials at the Pentagon and White House, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, offered few specifics. They have said in the past that up to one-third of the 37,000 troops based in South Korea would be removed in coming years. U.S. officials are in sensitive discussions with Japan, where 40,000 American troops are stationed.

Officials said the largest changes in troop levels will be in Europe. Pentagon officials have said that even as they consider reducing the U.S. military contingent in Germany, they are exploring the possible establishment of small bases in countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, former Soviet bloc nations whose leaders generally have warm relations with Bush.

Administration officials said they remain in sensitive negotiations with a number of countries about pulling out U.S. soldiers and are conducting talks with others that might accept troops for the first time. They disputed the assertion that Bush's plan might alienate allies.

"All affected countries have been consulted with several times," a White House official said. "This is something we're doing with allies, not that we're doing to allies."

Currently, 230,000 American troops are permanently deployed abroad, not including those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Officials said U.S. forces in all parts of the world would be involved in the changes announced by Bush.

With the advent of new technology and lighter, more-mobile equipment, officials said, troops can be stationed in the United States where they can spend more time with their families but be quickly redeployed anywhere in the world.

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