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. Pentagon rejects slowing withdrawal from European bases
WASHINGTON (AFP) May 09, 2005
The Pentagon on Monday rejected an independent commission's recommendation that it slow down its planned withdrawal of 70,000 US troops from Europe because it already had "too many balls in the air" with ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Commission on Overseas Basing sharply criticized the Pentagon's plans to realign its global military posture, warning that the ill-considered sequence and pace of the changes was liable to operationally handicap the US military and create new vulnerabilities.

"So we're just asking that the process be slowed, reordered because we have just too many balls in the air at one time," retired Brigadier General Keith Martin, a member of the commission, told reporters at a press conference Monday.

The commission report, which was released last week, came at an awkward time for the Pentagon, which has until next week to recommend a list of bases in the United States for closing.

The commission's argument for delaying base closings in Europe is likely to be used as an argument by some members of Congress for putting off politically unpopular base closings in the United States.

At a hastily called press conference, two senior Pentagon officials insisted the overseas basing plan was orchestrated to dovetail with plans to close unneeded US bases and had been discussed within the government, the Congress and allies.

"In the area of speed, all along the way, in not one of those negotiations, did anyone raise any caution about the pace with which we are moving forward," said Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Ryan Henry.

"They, as we, saw it as deliberate, thoughtful and flexible," he said.

Raymond Dubois, a Pentagon official who has been intimately involved in basing issues, said the army has selected the US bases that would be optimum for the returning 1st Infantry and 1st Armored divisions, and discussed those bases' future needs with local officials.

"And to suggest that we need to slow that down or we need to reorder those priorities is, I think, also an error," he said.

The Pentagon's plans call for bringing two heavy army divisions from Europe, and closing more than half its European bases. They would be replaced with a far-flung network of logistics hubs and lightly manned and unmanned forward operating locations in unstable parts of the world.

In Asia, the United States already has begun redeploying US troops from South Korea and Okinawa to Iraq as part of a still emerging repositioning of forces.

Reorganized into smaller, more deployable combat units, US forces would be deployed from US bases in response to crises anywhere in the world under the new strategy.

The new posture would allow the United States greater freedom of action in deploying its forces in a crisis.

But the commission faulted the Pentagon for making a firm commitment to close bases in Europe before it has negotiated new access and basing arrangements elsewhere.

It also questioned whether the United States has enough long-range transport aircraft, ships and stocks of prepositioned equipment to support a strategy of responding to crises from US bases.

"The concept of an expeditionary force only works if you can get it where it needs to go, when it needs to get there," said Martin.

Henry, however, said a major study of mobility requirements this year will shape changes that will be phased in between 2006 and 2011.

The commission also warned that the United States would give up influence with allies that comes from having a stable military presence in Europe, as well as a valuable staging area for operations in the Middle East and Africa.

It urged that one armored brigade be left in Europe and that equipment for another armored brigade be prepositioned in ships in the region as a hedge against another blow-up in the Balkans and until the army's lighter Stryker combat vehicles are equipped with weapons capable of destroying tanks.

In Asia, the commission said Okinawa remained a lynchpin of US strategy in the region and said US Marines should be kept there. There have been discussions with Japan on moving some marines from Okinawa to Japan's main islands, Guam or Australia.

"This is a matter ultimately of distance," said James Thompson, president of the RAND Corporation and a panel member.

"How close can one be to the potential areas of military threat, either ones we know about or the ones that can emerge? And the location of Okinawa from the point of view covering these threats is much better than Guam," he said.

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