(AFP) President George W. Bush’s planned announcement Monday of the withdrawal of up to 100,000 US troops from Europe and Asia is part of a years-long process to adapt the military to post-Cold War threats, leading lawmakers said Sunday.
“This is a decision that’s been under review by the secretary of defense for about three or four years,” Senator John Warner, the Virginia Republican who heads the armed services committee, told CNN.
“The vestiges, the remnants of the Cold War are still present in a lot of our military installations in Europe, and it’s time to lighten up our military equipment in Europe, get the heavy stuff back here so it can be redeployed to where it might be needed,” he said.
The committee’s top Democrat, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, said he would probably support the proposal, though he had not yet seen the plan’s deails.
“In terms of the general direction that it’s taking … this has been in the works for a long time, and there are some things that we should do to redeploy troops so that they are in the best position possible for what the new threats are,” he said.
Although parts of the plan are still being finalized, the redeployment will most significantly affect US forces in Germany and South Korea, which served as a bulwark against the threat of communist aggression during the Cold War.
Tens of thousands of US troops are expected to be pulled out from these and other countries in the next three to four years and redeployed to bases in the United States, administration officials told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“This initiative will strengthen our ability to address threats abroad, improve our capability to protect America and our allies, and will ease some of the burden on our uniformed military members and their families,” said one administration official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
The United States has about 100,000 troops deployed in Europe and about the same number in Asia, outside Iraq and Afghanistan. There are about 70,000 troops in Germany, 37,500 in South Korea and 48,000 in Japan.
The president is scheduled to make a speech Monday at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The New York Times reported Sunday that the president will announce that he supports the Defense Department reorganization which would see up to 70,000 troops withdrawn.
He will also say that it could affect an additional 100,000 military support staff and family members in the regions, the report said quoting an administration official.
A Japanese business daily reported Sunday that Tokyo and Washington were drawing up a new security framework on their military cooperation against terrorism and other threats.
Washington is considering relocating the headquarters of its Army’s 1st Corps to Camp Zama in Kanagawa, west of Tokyo, and integrating the 13th Air Force Command in Guam into the Yokota Air Force Base in the capital, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun said, quoting sources close to the matter.
US forces are stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the plan has been actively pushed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has stepped up calls for a radical new military posture since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Top Pentagon officials have for months been quietly selling the initiative to Congress, in a bid to soothe concerns that the redeployment could further fray US relations with key NATO allies.
Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith told a House hearing in June that the US military intended to retain but consolidate its main bases in Germany, Italy, Britain, Japan and South Korea.
In addition, it planned to rely on so-called “forward operating sites” containing pre-positioned military equipment that could be quickly converted into full-fledged bases, if the need arised, he said.
One such new site under consideration is in Bosnia-Herzegovina at what is now known as Eagle Base outside Tuzla, according to defense officials.
In Asia, the United States has already announced the reduction 12,500 US troops in South Korean and plans to consolidate facilities and headquarters in Japan.
One of the plans calls for stationing a second aircraft carrier group — on top of the one led by the USS Kitty Hawk — in the Asia-Pacific region to deal with the threat posed by North Korea and its nuclear ambitions, officials said.