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US forces may stay longer in Europe: Pentagon

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 30, 2007
US forces may stay longer than planned in Europe if Defense Secretary Robert Gates agrees to a request from his top commander there, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.

Two of the four US combat brigades left in Europe were supposed to move to US bases over the next year, but General Bantz Craddock, the commander of US forces in Europe, has recommended postponing the move by about a year.

Gates "is inclined to embrace the concept of leaving two of them there for a time longer than originally anticipated," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Craddock had recommended the slowdown in withdrawing the troops, saying more forces were needed for "security theater engagement," Whitman added.

The plan is seen as a "short term solution" to a troop crunch in Europe, but it also indicates the US military is having second thoughts about a two-year-old plan to scale back its presence in Europe.

"It's a question worthy of pretty extensive discussion to make sure we do have the posture right," Admiral Michael Mullen, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said last week.

Mullen said Gates had decided to approve the slowdown, but Whitman said the secretary's staff was still working through the details.

About 43,000 US troops are currently stationed in Europe, down from about 60,000 two years ago when former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld set in motion a major overhaul of the US military commitment there.

Rumsfeld's changes called for shifting two US heavy divisions out of Cold War-era bases in Europe to the United States, and reorganizing the army into more mobile brigade size units with global reach.

Only two US combat brigades would have remained in Europe, one in Germany and the other Italy.

Mullen, however, has emphasized the need to remain engaged with US allies around the world in an era of "persistent conflict."

General David McKiernan, the US Army commander in Europe, also recently noted the uncertainties posed by a "resurgent Russia."

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