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US soldiers stationed in Heidelberg, Germany
Almost 75 percent of US troops in Europe are in the Iraq-Afghanistan deployment cycleImage: AP

Rethinking Reductions

DW staff (nda)
July 25, 2007

When former US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld issued a plan to reduce troops in Europe, the US was fighting one war. Five years later, it is globally stretched by two. Military experts are now rethinking the strategy.

https://p.dw.com/p/BLcZ

Plans adopted by the United States in 2002 to transform its military into a leaner, more cost-effective force, which would mean significant troop withdrawals from Europe, are being reviewed in the light of the on-going conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ever-changing geo-political climate around the world.

Experts at the US Defense Department were studying whether the plans to cut troops on the continent by nearly half, formulated by former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, were still relevant to today’s global challenges, according to an unnamed Pentagon source quoted in reports from the Associated Press Monday.

Rumsfeld's plan to reduce troop numbers from 68,000 in 2001 to 28,000 by 2012 was conceived before the United States embarked on the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Defense analysts are now concerned that the plan is outdated, given America's involvement in two theaters of war, the worsening relations with Russia and Iran and a recent plan to extend the size and range of the US Army.

The source claimed that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are considering recommendations for a review made in June by Gen. Bantz Craddock, who took over as head of the US European Command (EUCOM) last year.

European Command chief recommends review

Ablösung in Afghanistan
Craddock (r.) believes the 2002 plan is outdatedImage: AP

Craddock's report questioned the troop reduction plan and highlighted incidents that hinted at a compromising of US military effectiveness in Europe.

As some troop reductions have already taken place and the turnover in deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and other "Operation Enduring Freedom" missions increases, US forces in Europe have had to postpone, and in some cases cancel, training with armies in European "partner nations." That has made it difficult for US military planners to pursue a more active strategy with nations such as Poland, the Czech Republic and former Soviet states, and potentially prevent disputes before they occur.

"We have very little capacity left for these ongoing (operations)," said Craddock during a congressional hearing concerning his report, referring to European missions. "Our ability to do that now is limited because we don't have the forces available since they are in the rotation to (Iraq or Afghanistan)."

An estimated 75 percent of the US military in Europe is either deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, is about to go, or just returned, according to the defense officials.

US unable to fulfill European commitments

Eingang US-Hauptquartier EUCOM in Stuttgart Vaihingen Schild
EUCOM has had to pull out of joint exercisesImage: AP

The claims of a review of the troop reduction plan comes just two weeks after the US announced it had emptied the Ramstein air base in southwestern Germany of nuclear weapons and that it would close five more US military sites in Germany by 2009.

The Defense Department revealed earlier in July that Turley Barracks in Mannheim, scheduled for closure at the end of September this year, would be followed by US Army Europe facilities in Büdingen and Gelnhausen in 2008. Sites in Darmstadt and Hanau would also be closed in 2009, it revealed.

The closure of the five bases would affect 2,372 soldiers, nine airmen, 799 US civilians and 679 local workers. The announcement was part of the long-term plan to close a total of 51 bases in Germany and other areas of western and northern Europe.

Possible rethink on closure of German bases

US-Luftwaffen-Zentrale wird in Ramstein errichtet
With fewer European bases, troops are flown directly homeImage: dpa

While the planned closures in Germany related to those bases not involved in leading operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, if a review of the plan found that the US military presence and involvement in European defense issues was being undermined by troop withdrawals, the removal of German bases may also be reconsidered.

Another problem which Craddock revealed in his report relates to the closure of bases in Europe, particularly in Germany, in regard to returning or wounded soldiers coming out of war zones.

The reduction of barracks and services in Europe means that returning US military personnel are now being flown directly to the United States, and in such numbers that it is putting strain on bases in the US which have also been downsized under the Rumsfeld-approved Base Realignment and Closure Act.

At the height of the Cold War, the United States had as many as 110,000 troops based in Europe.

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