As the United States plans to scale back its military presence in Europe, its representatives at the Munich Security Conference have emphasized America's commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Saturday sought to reassure European allies that their security remains a top priority for Washington despite reductions in American troop numbers across the continent.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Panetta cited NATO involvement in Libya and Afghanistan as examples of the close military cooperation across the Atlantic.
"Our military footprint in Europe will remain larger than in any other region of the world," Panetta said. "That's not only because the peace and prosperity of Europe is critically important to the United States, but because Europe remains our security partner of choice for military operations and diplomacy around the world."
The Pentagon recently announced it would withdraw two of its four combat brigades in Europe, or about 7,000 troops, as part of plans to cut some $487 billion (370 billion euros) from its budget over the next decade.
The cuts have sparked some worries among European countries about whether NATO troops would be able to train together enough for joint combat operations.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Panetta's reassurances, even as the US shifts much of its military focus to Asia and the Middle East. She mentioned Europe and America's joint stance with the Arab League on Syria as proof that the two sides could work together for common goals.
"I've heard all the talk about where Europe fits into America's global outlook," she said. "I've heard some of the doubts expressed. But the reality couldn't be clearer: Europe is America's partner of first resort."
acb/slk (AFP, Reuters)