A Pentagon spokesman on Friday confirmed the United States was planning withdraw its tanks and other heavy armor from Germany in the coming years, as part of Washington’s efforts to restructure the global deployment of its forces.
The spokesman, Major Paul Swiergosz, did not give numbers or a timeline for the withdrawal, but the Wall Street Journal reported last week around 30,000 to 40,000 soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division and 1st Infantry Division could leave Germany in 2005 or 2006.
Swiergosz said Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, and not Pentagon policy advisor Douglas Feith as the Journal had reported, had discussed the issued with German officials in December. “He said some of the heavy forces might be pulled out, it's likely," Swiergosz said according to the AFP news agency.
Presently there are some 70,000 U.S. troops stationed in Germany. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made no secret he would like to reshape the American military from its Cold War era deployments like those in Germany to smaller, more flexible units based closer to potential flashpoints in the Middle East and elsewhere.
U.S. officials have repeatedly said that the decision to pull forces from Germany is unrelated to Berlin’s opposition to the American-led war in Iraq, and both the key U.S. airbase in Ramstein and the U.S. headquarters in Stuttgart are likely to largely unaffected by the redeployments.
However, a number of East European nations that supported Washington during the conflict are now being considered for new bases. Poland has said it favors hosting U.S. forces and according to the Reuters news agency, Romania has also offered the United States a choice of sites for small military bases.
“We've identified a couple of locations. It's up to them to choose one or more of those, but probably (on) the Black Sea,” Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on Friday.
Germany planning major cuts
As Washington attempts to restructure its forces in Germany, Berlin is also pushing forward with an overhaul of its own military. German media on Saturday reported that German Defense Minister Peter Struck will announce massive cuts to the Bundeswehr’s budget next week.
Citing senior Bundeswehr sources, several newspapers and magazines reported Struck plans to lop some €25 billion ($32 billion) off the military’s procurement and investment budget in the coming decade. A number of large equipment orders are likely to be affected by the decision.
According to Die Welt and Handelsblatt newspapers, Germany will slash orders for a multi-role armored vehicle being developed by Germany's Rheinmetall AG and Britain's GKN to 200 from the 1,100 originally intended.
The government is also likely to cuts the number of NH 90 transport helicopters and Tiger combat helicopters from European aerospace firm EADS Eurocopter unit. A planned third order Eurofighter jets could also be dramatically reduced.
Struck on Saturday declined to comment on the reports, but in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper due to be published Sunday he said he had informed military commanders that the Bundeswehr budget was unlikely to be spared the government’s spending cuts.
“In times when we are making cuts across the board for social programs, we can’t just keep spending more on the Bundeswehr,” he told the newspaper.
Sinking troop levels
Struck announced last year he wants to cut the armed forces by 30,000 to a total of 250,000 soldiers by 2010. Many military bases will also be closed, and civilian personnel tangibly reduced as part of the cost savings.
However, according to Der Spiegel news magazine, Germany is also planning to take part in the development of a air defense system with the United States and Italy. The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) would be used to shoot down enemy aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic rockets and would cost an estimated €7 billion.
Although Germany is keen to restructure its armed forces to be better able to take part in military operations abroad, Berlin has been repeated criticized by its NATO partners that it does not spend enough on defense. Currently Germany spends only 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product on defense compared to a NATO average of 2.5 percent.